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Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh fears young stars will be put off GAA

By John Campbell

Tyrone were not the only losers in Sunday's tempestuous Ulster Championship preliminary round tie at Ballybofey where Donegal took their first step towards what they hope will be the retention of their provincial crown.

The GAA itself shipped a considerable blow when its worthy 'Respect' initiative was dragged through the mud to a large extent.

The official wording of the mantra states that it: "aims to promote positive behaviour and to ensure that an enriching environment is provided for the promotion and development of Gaelic Games. This includes respect for and from all participants on and around the field."

In theory, this is an admirable goal. In practice, though, it has - temporarily at least, it is hoped - assumed the proportions of an impossible dream.

Off-the-ball incidents, cynicism, weak match officials, highly personal sledging and players generally pushing out the boundaries - not for the first time - besmirched a high-profile contest.

And to the extent indeed that Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh is now urging GAA chiefs to take much more positive steps so that the overall presentation of games can be improved.

Indeed, Cavanagh goes so far as to sound a warning that younger players may be tempted to embrace soccer and rugby in the belief that they may be accorded more respect than in GAA.

A clearly perturbed Cavanagh believes that while the Championship season has the potential to offer rich entertainment value, it could yet lurch into even more dangerous territory.

"There was plenty of off-the-ball stuff taking place on Sunday. And people got away with things that they should not have got away with. But it was the same from both sides. It was that type of hot-tempered, win at all costs Ulster Championship tie so there's no sense in pointing fingers," states Cavanagh.

"Things go on in games that you would like to see dealt with more sternly. But until referees get more help, this is not going to happen. Sideline officials and umpires need to get really brave and make calls to change things. The referee can only keep focusing on the play."

Cavanagh, who has skippered Ireland in the International Rules series, contrasts the manner in which major championship matches are controlled with what pertains in the Rules code.

"Whenever we play International Rules, we have a video referee who can change things if they are reviewing an off-the-ball incident. They can name the person involved and there is a second referee there as well and also umpires and other officials so you have an awful lot of eyes on the play," maintains Cavanagh.

"On Sunday, players on both sides knew they could get away with things and that's how some of the more unsavoury incidents were sparked."

The 32-year-old Cavanagh, who has soldiered at the coal face for Tyrone since 2002 during which time he has amassed three All-Ireland medals, believes that incidents such as those which occurred at the tunnel at half-time on Sunday serve to tarnish the sport.

"I know there was a lot of talking, mouthing and pushing but whenever you've got guys in the backroom team who get a bit carried away then the whole thing kicks off," points out Cavanagh.

"It's ugly and no one likes it but there were worse things that happened last year."

His deepest sense of apprehension now surrounds the increasingly insidious verbals which appear to be polluting the sport if anecdotal evidence is to be believed.

"The sledging was particularly bad on Sunday but then the higher you go and the greater the local rivalries, the worse it will become," insists Cavanagh.

"As a player, I have grown used to it. With the intensity of Sunday's game and everyone feeling on edge, players probably did overstep the mark."

Cavanagh maintains he was "chatted to" while taking frees on Sunday but adds: "I am quite sure that Michael Murphy was also chatted to."

And, like most GAA officials, he admits that it is proving extremely difficult to police.

"The referees could deal with this better. Some are very good whereby if they see someone talking out of order when a player is striking a free, they will bring the ball forward 13 metres," says Cavanagh.

"Players will push boundaries. Linesmen and umpires can help the referee more by ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice early."

It's the extremely personal nature of verbal abuse that disgusts family man Cavanagh.

"It can be very, very personal. I know that on Sunday there were certain players on our team who have been through tough times and they were getting a fair bit of verbal abuse. It's disappointing to learn this but it's not all one-sided," declares Cavanagh.

"It's certainly not a good advertisement for younger players coming into the game and if they were thinking of playing soccer or rugby they might go there because there's probably an awful lot more respect in those codes."

Down's Brendan McArdle has successfully appealed his dismissal against Roscommon in the Division 2 final while there were mixed fortunes for Monaghan pair Kieran Hughes and Dessie Mone and Armagh's Finian Moriarty.

The GAA's Central Hearings Committee has exonerated McArdle, who was controversially sent off in the first-half of the 0-15 to 1-17 loss to Roscommon, while they also rescinded the black card Hughes was shown during Monaghan's loss to Dublin.

There was no joy, however, for Mone, who also picked up a black card in that game, while Moriarity was unsuccessful in appealing his black card from the Division 3 final win over Fermanagh.

Belfast Telegraph


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