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The cycle of GAA violence has to stop

By Declan Bogue

Over last weekend, more than 4,000 children arrived in Connacht for the annual hurling and camogie Feile, the national competition for the under-14s that has been running since 1971.

For a lot of kids, 'getting to Feile' is a rite of passage as they play across a long weekend against teams from all over Ireland and form life-long memories, generating yarns that get recycled decades after those kids have settled into middle-age spread.

Throughout it all, the spirit is of pure sportsmanship and it is the GAA at its' very best.

While those thousands of kids were getting settled into their host families and accommodation on Friday night, a few hours up the road a desperate, ugly row was taking place in the Athletic Grounds during the Armagh v Tyrone under-20 Ulster Championship, involving substitutes who jumped onto the field and mentors.

And it makes me wonder, what infects children in their teenage years to go from one version of themselves, to that garbage on Friday night.

Chances are, you have already seen the footage, such is the way of the world with smartphones now. I myself received three different clips from different sources and the actions carried out on the field were the result of what I said at the time on Twitter: a putrid attitude that exists in the GAA when it comes to violence.

As depressing as the scenes were, they had nothing on some of the responses I received. They ranged from the delusional 'Not much in it' type, to the baffling 'how dare you point out this thing that everybody by now has seen', to the deranged, with some people actually linking my point to the brand of football that the current Fermanagh senior team play.

When you hold a mirror up to society, you cannot be shocked that the very same society is appalled with what they see and seek to reject it.

But here is the thing. I will always remain vehemently opposed to the practise of young men battering each other under the guise of a faux hard-man culture. I despise it and anyone that tries to make hollow excuses for it.

We all have skin in the game here. I myself do a little underage coaching. The kids are between nine and 12 years of age and every evening at training, matches or blitzes, their raw enthusiasm for their introduction to hurling is a joy.

The trouble any coach has is that children do copy their heroes. And there can be no doubt that at senior level, Gaelic football can be poisonous.

Gamesmanship is one thing but the viciousness among the club scene can be rotten. Every week I receive at least one incident of encounters captured on a smartphone.

Only on Sunday, my What's App buzzed with a clip from a Junior league game played in Tyrone. There is a bit of pushing and shoving when one player circles around another and, with the recipient unable to see it coming, knocks the victim down with a punch to the temple.

Two players out of the one club were in Altnagelvin on Sunday evening. One had a broken jaw and another had his top lip torn open. Both were hit from behind.

What makes this all the more insane is the extensive reporting on what is called 'one-punch killings'.

Unfortunately, Tyrone itself has had more than their share, occurring during nights out in Omagh and Cookstown over the last number of years.

And yet you get a sense that even if someone was killed in one of these exchanges, there would still be a moron who will pop up on Twitter saying there was nothing in it.

So look at the clip of what happened in the Athletic Grounds last Friday night, and ask yourself a few questions.

Would you be happy if you were involved as a mentor that got involved in that? Would you be happy if your son or brother was on that field? What are the positives from this?

This is where the GAA simply have to come in and start a serious process of educating their playing base. Any circling of wagons, or of reporters and opponents of violence being lectured to about the irrelevance of how good a game it was needs to stop immediately.

Listen to the video again and hear the shrieking of a young girl obviously terrified. And ask yourself if the GAA can truly market itself as a family activity.

Right now, this situation needs actions and not more hollow words.

Belfast Telegraph

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