Verbal abuse is becoming a malice to Gaelic Games
WHILE most people predicted a Donegal win, including yours truly, few would have expected Tyrone to play so well and almost come away with victory.
From a personal point of view, I felt some of the 'sledging' and downright cynical play carried out by both teams was very disappointing.
I am the first to admit I enjoy a bit of a fight and hard hitting, which has always been a part of the DNA of the game. It was all handbags and no one was hurt and it better resembled a bit of chest-beating and territory marking by both sets of players. However, what I find on most occasions are a few of the same players becoming involved, with some of the Donegal defenders particularly guilty.
Particularly disappointing is seeing Neil Gallagher appear to try to sabotage Seán Cavanagh’s piano-playing potential with what looked like a pull on his fingers, something which goes well beyond what is expected from someone who is so experienced and, indeed, sportsmanlike in his Gaelic football career to date.
Referee Joe McQuillan gave a questionable display and it was unsurprising that Tyrone were incensed by his performance.
In the lead up to Donegal’s first goal, Neil Gallagher appeared to over-carry the ball on the right touchline. Seán Cavanagh’s sending off was harsh given that Paddy McGrath 'ducked' into the tackle and McQuillan issued black then red cards, which actually does not make much sense. Again you can see the continued use of the black card is confusing the referees, even at this early stage of the Championship.
Donegal had that wee bit of experience and it’s in those types of pitched battles you see how coaching can pay real dividends, especially in the tackle. Donegal’s tackling is borderline at best and, despite consistent and tactical fouling by both sets of teams, it provides further evidence, if needed, that perhaps two referees are needed on the field.
It is not enough now, given the amount of time and commitment both players and management are dedicating, to justify a below-par refereeing performance under the ‘amateur’ umbrella.
What really riles me is the complete lack of accountability the Referees’ Association currently enjoys. Given that I considered Pat McEnaney to be one of the best referees around, I am surprised McEnaney himself, as the National Referees' Association chairman, does not take a harder line and perhaps relegate some of our poorer performers from some of the bigger Championship games.
This happens in almost all other sporting codes. This is best illustrated in the English Premier League where referees can be dropped for poor performances.
Last week I stated that you can never under-estimate the importance of a guaranteed free-taker on a team. A good manager can afford to carry a man who can guarantee scores from placed balls nine out of 10 times.
In Michael Murphy, Donegal have the most influential player any team has in the country and Joe Brolly was quite right in this assessment. While he is a different type of player to Colm Cooper, he is the reason why Donegal won an All-Ireland and continue to win tight games, like last Sunday.
Kerry won an All-Ireland last year despite Cooper’s absence and, while he can only strengthen the team further, considering the talent at Kerry’s disposal year on year, you would be naïve to think Donegal would be on a par in terms of talent generally.
While Justin McMahon did what he had to do from play, he only really copied a model originally developed by Donegal themselves in the past under Jim McGuinness. Armagh will take note.
If Donegal think the verbals will be all but forgotten in the Athletic Grounds, I predict that both sets of players will have to leave their emotions at the gate for this one. I can accept physical abuse on the pitch - within reason. What I cannot accept is the verbal commentary which has increasingly crept into our game.
Most inter-county players have been subjected to this type of abuse, whether it has been directed at their family, loved ones, the colour of their skin, or their creed. In my opinion, along with spitting, it is the lowest level any person can go to in an attempt to gain an advantage.
Countless times both sets of players were guilty of it, including pressuring referees to issue black cards on almost every occasion a player was fouled. Where is the honour in this, especially considering that players are performing heroics to the thousands watching on?
Any player worth their salt will say the same thing, when you step over the white line, you cannot afford to show weakness.
Unfortunately, because the stakes are becoming so high, the verbal aspect of gaining an edge is becoming misinterpreted as a sign of commitment and manliness.
Frank Lucas, the real-life criminal and American gangster had a great saying: ‘The loudest man in the room is the weakest man in the room’. And Tony Soprano rightly lamented: ‘What happened to the Gary Coopers of this world, the strong silent type?'.
Looking forward to this weekend, the Cavan v Monaghan match may not get the pulses racing in the same way as Donegal v Tyrone, but it does provide an opportunity to study Monaghan’s credentials as potential Ulster champions.
Monaghan have one of the tightest defences around and it will be interesting to see if Conor McManus can continue his scintillating form from the League. It’s the support acts to him who may hamstring Monaghan at the latter end of the Championship.
Given my accuracy in calling winners last year, each week I will now put my money where my mouth is, with an £5 accumulator bet, all proceeds going to Cancer Research.
This week’s predictions are Monaghan and Roscommon wins, each by more than five points.