There have been grounds in the recent past for subscribing to the belief that cynicism had finally taken its leave of Gaelic football and allowed honesty, sportsmanship and integrity to prevail instead.
But, alas, it would now appear that we were enveloped in something of a false dawn.
Quite a number of people to whom I have spoken and many others who have aired their views on social media are now of the opinion that ‘game management’ and cynicism are one and the same.
In both the recent Tyrone v Kerry and Dublin v Donegal League fixtures, the closing stages were marred by what I can only describe as unpalatable incidents which were clearly sparked in order to facilitate stoppages in play — and consequent controversy in relation to the inevitable time lapse.
The upshot was that Tyrone inched to victory after Kerry’s David Clifford was banished following a tangle with Ben O’Connell, who received a yellow card, and Dublin’s John Small along with Donegal’s Michael Murphy exited the Croke Park playing arena in the dying moments of an eventful contest.
I believe that stage-managed incidents — yes, let’s call a spade a spade here — do nothing for the image of Gaelic football and can only lead to similar incidents as the season unfolds.
Should this prove to be the case, then we run the risk of making a farce of our sport altogether.
Let’s call it for what it is — this is game management dressed up as cynicism or vice-versa, take your choice.
In the past, Ulster teams in particular were stigmatised by having the cynical label attached to them but right now most teams are guilty of this insidious trait that is detracting from the game itself.
Indeed, I will go further and maintain that many ‘non-northern’ teams are much more adept at the dark arts than we are — and I’m including Dublin in the mix lest anyone thinks they are blameless.
In last Saturday night’s game, Dublin’s Small was clearly detailed to ruffle Murphy’s feathers but I thought the Donegal skipper showed admirable restraint before becoming the now almost inevitable victim of the popular ‘two must go’ mantra when there is clearly only one culprit — as Clifford will undoubtedly testify, too.
In the Murphy-Small incident, the clock was stopped for two minutes but referee Maurice Deegan only added one minute and 10 seconds as Donegal pressed for an equalising point.
There is no doubt that the power of the media has come into focus on this particular overall issue and I believe it’s time that the GAA itself changed the narrative and started to speak openly and honestly about what is happening.
When people see what is happening before their very eyes, it becomes utterly embarrassing when managers in particular try to put a completely different gloss on events that quite often fill onlookers with revulsion.
We are all by now too well aware that the very players who through their silken skills and what I can only describe as their uncanny ability at times help to bring thousands of people through the turnstiles should be unnecessarily ‘targeted’ as their opponents pursue success.
Should more of these players be targeted, the GAA must surely be aware that followers have an option open to them — and that is to keep their money in their pockets and stay away.
After all, with a miscellany of television stations engaged in an ongoing desperate quest for the screening rights of games, no one is going to miss out on anything, that’s for sure.
I think the GAA has the power to ensure that ‘game management’ and cynicism are kept in check and if that means bringing all the referees on the Championship list in for a fresh briefing session at Croke Park, then let’s have it.
It is a great pity that at this early stage of the season something of a sour taste is already being left in the mouths of those who are clearly passionate about our game — otherwise why would they be out in the stands and terraces at this time of the year?
And to think that the games are only controlled by eight officials, too. Food for thought or what!?
I believe that there is cause for concern in relation to the future welfare of football in my own county of Armagh.
And this concern arises from the poor record which the Orchard County currently has at minor and Under-21 level in recent years prior to the introduction of the Under-17 and Under-20 series.
I note that in some other counties there is excellent work being done in relation to the future in these sectors and while this work is also being undertaken in Armagh, it doesn’t appear to be producing the expected results.
I know there are other counties with similar worries because they are aware that under-age success can trigger progress at a higher level, although this is certainly not always guaranteed, of course.
I am aware that there is a lot of youthful talent in Armagh and that there is a marked enthusiasm for Gaelic football at schools and club level.
I believe the talent has to be harnessed better if we are to make the headway I think we are capable of.
I am aware, of course, that winning All-Ireland Finals at minor and U20 level has become much more difficult from an Ulster perspective but I still think that these goals are attainable.
It will require greater emphasis on under-age coaching and a more coherent overall policy in under-age development squads.
Armagh have won all too few matches in the more important under-age competitions over the course of the past five years and this gives you some idea of how much work we have to do if we want to make real progress.
Obviously you have to have players coming through but I believe there is enough talent within the county to create a change in our fortunes.
I would be delighted to see Armagh make an impact at under-age level and the sooner the better.