Enda McGinley: Not all 'unbelievable scenes' in GAA are negative

While much attention last weekend focused on unsavoury scenes, the brilliance of the Cargin v St Gall's Antrim SFC semi-final was somewhat overshadowed Picture by Seamus Loughran

TO say the club season is throwing up a mixed bag of entertainment is an understatement. From club games which are resembling a UFC fight night more than a Gaelic game to football games and competitions which, in terms of entertainment and sheer competitiveness, are putting the county game in the shade.

The joys of social media in relation to our game have been there for everyone to see and discuss over this past few weeks.

Certainly the voyeuristic nature of modern society and the ability for things to spread at viral speed has been given umpteen examples over this past six weeks of club action.

Unfortunately, from an Ulster perspective, those who view our game as overly-negative and as having a palpable nasty streak, have been given all the evidence they want to validate their preconceptions.

Some choose to give out about the people taking and sharing the videos of the various rows which are perfect WhatsApp fodder and quickly become widespread click-bait on the various media platforms. This turns it into mainstream news before many of the players and supporters even reach home.

In an era when people share images and footage of anything from meals out, drinks with friends, pets, outfits etc, it’s hardly surprising that something of genuine widespread interest and shock value gets captured.

Then when it gets sent to a friend or a group, the fuse is lit.

For me, it was galling to see how The Nolan Show decided to pick up on comments I made and run with a slot on violence and the GAA.

The Nolan Show is hardly your go-to source for GAA news, so the cherry-picking was plain to see and makes plenty of us frustrated at the skewed coverage given to the tiny minority of games which break down into violence.

On any given weekend, at least a hundred games occur throughout Ulster at a guess.

At every one of those, people will have smart phones which are able to record any major scene, yet only one hit the headlines, so we could be talking about as little as one per cent here – maybe not even.

However, in a country stung

with various cover-ups in institutions from the banking sector to healthcare to the church, surely we realise that the sweep-it-under-the-carpet approach or putting out the ‘nothing to see here’ signs is not exactly the appropriate response when there appears to be a genuine problem in our game.

The scenes we have seen in several of the games is nothing but disgusting; to trivialise it shouldn’t be an option for any right-thinking person.

Someone will be seriously hurt if such hooliganism or thuggery is allowed any sort of place in our game.

There needs to be new sanctions brought in and a clear line in the sand must be drawn by Croke Park officials. Complete team expulsions are the only way forward when significant melees occur.

People talk about ‘the culture’ and trying to change it. If the penalty is severe enough then ‘the culture’ will change.

Sitting down looking at videos trying to identify or ask clubs to identify those involved to hand down individual sentences is a complete waste of time.

The best way to punish those involved is to make their entire team and club suffer – then maybe people will think twice.

Thankfully there are bright points in our game too and, surprisingly this time, it got the social media treatment too but in a positive sense.

Within an hour of the spectacular finish of the Cargin v St Gall’s Antrim Senior Football Championship final, there had been over 40,000 views of Tomás McCann’s spectacular match-winning goal.

Now, being married into that particular clan, I know Tomas well.

And while I wouldn’t doubt a lot of those ‘views’ are, understandably in this case, his own, the interest level and buzz that the moment created was fantastic to see.

I was lucky enough to be a spectator at the game and it proved without a doubt that, within our troubled game, there is still so much to savour and be proud of.

Antrim unfortunately sits at the bottom of the pile within Ulster and is often disregarded as a result.

Antrim obviously has issues in terms of the playing population, yet to consequently doubt the quality of what goes on in the county is a mistake borne of ignorance.

Here was a game played on a Saturday evening that attracted several thousand spectators, including people from south Derry and Tyrone.

Prior to the game I was reminded of the unique set-ups at work at club level.

The poor county board ticket-sellers were obviously somewhat overwhelmed by the crowd size and their response was to keep shouting to remind people that there were two windows in their transit van ticket office, not just one!

Given that people were already using the other window and there was a queue of a few hundred metres of supporters four and five deep at this stage, it was hardly a model of efficiency.

Few cared, however, as it was a great evening and I can guarantee even fewer cared when the game turned into a classic.

A final score of 2-17 to 4-10 gives some idea of the football on show. At a rough count, I’d imagine that at some stage in their career, at least 15 of those involved were county players.

Both teams played a football game of excellent quality that was open by modern standards, probably too much at times, and where score-making and score-taking in particular were at the highest level.

St Gall’s showed glimpses of their brilliant past, while Cargin dug in and went to the well again and again and again.

To then win it in the manner

they did was one of those fairytale moments few ever experience. The devastated St Gall’s crowd, the ecstatic Cargin support and the many neutrals all knew they had seen a game that will be talked about for years to come.

Several hundred Cargin spectators stayed on to clap their team off the pitch.

Supporters were already erecting flags in Toome by the time the players were home.

People literally didn’t know what to do with themselves, such was the buzz of positivity and pride such a match had brought.

It was an occasion that demonstrated the almost indescribable effect our games can have on our communities and individual lives.

Such occasions prove that all our pride in our club game and our allegiance to it, even in the face of the negative aspects we are too familiar with of late, is very well placed.

It is up to all of us to learn where to draw a line regarding the passion in football that is our clubs’ lifeblood, but which has been recently used as an excuse for scenes not worthy of our game.

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