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Date: Wednesday 5th May 2010

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Let's not brush Healy Park half-time violence under the carpet, someone could have been seriously hurt

Oisin McConville


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Tyrone's Conor Meyler and Dublin's James McCarthy scuffle
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Tyrone's Conor Meyler and Dublin's James McCarthy scuffle Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Tyrone's Conor Meyler and Dublin's James McCarthy scuffle Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

In recent years, the GAA has come up with protocols for certain situations so that order, discipline and respect are to be fully observed.

Such protocols were lacking at Healy Park, Omagh last weekend when a half-time disturbance in the players' tunnel - and note that I state 'players' tunnel' - cast a disturbing shadow over the Tyrone v Dublin Allianz Football League Division One game.

Quite why so many people actually had access to the tunnel gives serious cause for concern, particularly for a game which was always going to have a decided edge to it.

There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Tyrone were desperately anxious to ensure that the game was staged in order to provide the team with the opportunity to dispel the sour taste that had been left following that 19-point mauling by Galway the previous weekend but this is neither here nor there in terms of what happened in the tunnel.

The fact that punches were clearly being thrown, objectionable language was said to have been used and tempers had become frayed to an extent that what actually occurred could even have been of a more serious nature is clearly a cause for concern.

There has been a tacit agreement in place whereby one team proceeds down the tunnel first before being followed by their opponents, thus eliminating the opportunity for contact between opposing players. Maybe it's sad that this has to be the case but last Saturday night's events provided further compelling evidence as to why this particular protocol must be observed on an ongoing basis.

The 'punishment' meted out on the night was a black card to Tyrone's Padraig Hampsey but in my opinion what actually occurred merited much more severe censure.

I believe that both county boards should be made amenable for the conduct of their players, officials and followers and this being the case should be served with fines.

I think there is a salutary lesson to be learned from what occurred and this is that players' tunnels should be policed more rigidly.

There was absolutely no need for many of the people who were in the Healy Park tunnel last Saturday night to be there in the first place so it has to be stated that there was a lapse in security.

I know both managers Dessie Farrell (below) and Mickey Harte have to some extent played down what happened but someone could have got seriously hurt given that people appeared to have little room for manoeuvre.

The GAA rightly prides itself on the manner in which it stages its games, particularly its showpiece fixtures in the Allianz Leagues and All-Ireland Senior Championships where rigid guidelines in terms of safety, crowd control and health and safety are normally in place.

That could not have been said to have been the case at Healy Park and no glossing over the incident can minimise it.

I believe that fewer personnel on the touchlines, stricter control at tunnel entrances and an observance of the current protocols would help to eliminate the kind of incidents which can bring the GAA into disrepute.

It is understandable that with most inter-county teams now boasting big backroom teams more people are on the touchlines and in the dugouts and while I am not suggesting for one moment that any individual in this capacity is prone to unacceptable behaviour, I would suggest that limiting the input of players to the 'inner sanctum' of the playing arena might help matters.

I applaud the people who paid hard-earned money to attend last Saturday night's game in the foulest weather possible but it was a great pity that their enjoyment was tarnished to some extent by what happened at the interval.

It's over to the powers that be now.

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