Off The Fence

Off The Fence: U16s with beards, BMWs and demanding Cliftonville fans

Life as a turnstile operator isn't easy as some of the oldest looking U16s try to gain free admission at GAA matches

SO it’s back. Off The Fence. The place where our beloved readers have their say.

Thursdays haven’t been the same without it. Those breathing new life into this weekly slot, we thank you most sincerely. We may not disagree with everything you say, but that’s what makes Off The Fence special. That’s what makes you special.

Okay, enough of the sycophancy already. The gloves are off...


‘SEAMUS’ starts the ball rolling this week. After reading ‘MOR’ in last week’s comeback column, Seamus was miffed by the attitude he displayed towards the ticket sellers ahead of Down’s Dr McKenna Cup tie with Queen’s.

‘MOR’ complained about one ticket seller insisting on seeing ID for a supporter purporting to be U16 [U16s gain free admission]: “The van man knows who he is – he was nearly looking for DNA,” said 'MOR'.

But ‘Seamus’, who has manned gates at GAA grounds for a life-time, paints a different picture. In response to ‘MOR’, ‘Seamus’ says: “I would just like to point out to people that the gate men and turnstile men have no control over admission prices into our games.

“People have to realise this rather than taking it out on us. Also, I read last week’s Off The Fence where someone was complaining about a guy on the gate asking for ID to determine whether or not the lad was U16 or not.”

‘Seamus’ adds: “One of the biggest abuses is people trying to get into games claiming they’re U16 when they’re closer to 26.

“I was at a ground last week where this guy gets out of his BMW and insists he was U16. For a start, he shouldn’t be driving if he is U16. So he remonstrates with me. These kinds of stand-offs happen regularly at GAA grounds.

“People have been trying to pull the wool over our eyes for years. Manning gates is a thankless task at times. I would like it if some people didn’t try and take us for morons.”


NOW, a plea for sympathy – and perhaps for a pair of Dr McKenna Cup final tickets from the Irish News – from ‘Big Pat from Lurgan’ who isn’t behind the door.

“I am just writing to Off The Fence to wish you and all the GAA folk the best for 2017 and hopefully this will get me into the draw for two free tickets to the McKenna Cup final.

“I haven't been to any of the McKenna Cup matches so far this year as the ‘aul eyesight's not the best for driving, so I cannot make comment on state of play or officialdom.

“As for my mates, one is waiting to go in for an operation and has had more cancellations than EasyJet, and the other will not take his new car to matches as he is afraid of getting it scratched. So it shows the predicament I am in.”

Your plight has been duly noted, Big Pat.


‘ATTICAL reader’ emailed us to say that the introduction of the ‘mark’ has no discernible impact on the game so far.

“The ‘mark’ pretty much was of no use in the Down versus Derry match at the weekend,” writes ‘Atticall reader’.

“I saw on no occasion where it was beneficial to the player to take the ‘mark’. Obviously the players just played the advantage. These people changing the rules would have been eating humble pie after watching this game.”

I’ve covered two McKenna Cup games – Derry versus Armagh and Antrim versus Monaghan – so far in 2017 and I’m inclined to agree with you.

Even before the ‘mark’ came into being, if a fielder was crowded out on landing he was invariably given a free anyway. Some players play the advantage, others take the free. We’ll watch how it evolves over the coming weeks.


‘ANONYMOUS’ sent this brief email as some advice to Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.

“Peter Harte is too good of a player to be playing for Tyrone at this time of year. Save him for a bigger day. Give other players a run-out.”

Try telling Peter Harte that.


‘CHRIS Scott’ took to Twitter to question the wisdom of Antrim management team Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams following their side’s 17-point McKenna Cup defeat to Monaghan last Sunday.

“Young Players learn little from high-scoring defeats,” tweeted ‘Chris’.

“Adams and ‘Fitz’ set the team up to defend their pride.”

On your last point, Antrim didn’t ‘park the bus’ against Monaghan in Glenavy last Sunday. So Adams and Fitzsimons’ approach certainly wasn’t damage limitation.

I counted eight starters in the Monaghan team who have Ulster winner’s medals. The majority of Antrim’s line-up was made up of rookies and they lost two of their more experienced players – Kevin Niblock and Niall Delargy – to injury before half-time that further weakened them.

Last Sunday was a chastening experience for Antrim. The hope is the new players learn from it and begin to appreciate the exacting standards required to cut it at inter-county level.


One reader, 'SB from North Belfast', wants more from Cliftonville manager Gerard Lyttle

WE’LL round off this week’s column with the musings of a Cliftonville supporter who rightly points out to us that Off The Fence should not be the preserve of GAA debate.

‘SB North Belfast’ emailed: “It's good to see the return of Off The Fence and let's hope it will be in a regular weekly spot now and not thrown in every few weeks or so which was very annoying.

“While I know that Gaelic Games are an important contribution to the column it should also be acknowledged that there is also a big, wider sporting world out there too and that should be reflected in Off The Fence.

“I am a big GAA fan but it becomes boring when dominated by ‘Culchies’ arguing over right corner-forwards and the price of cups of tea every week.”

‘SB’ finally gets to the point of his email: “Anyway, as a Cliftonville fan I am delighted that Joe Gormley has re-signed for us because let's be honest, the Reds support were starting to become very disillusioned and unhappy at the way the club was going.

“While I know we can't compete financially with Linfield and Crusaders, even clubs like Ballymena and Glenavon were embarrassing us with their signings.

“Many Reds fans feel that the club was stagnating and going nowhere the past few seasons and we hope the signing of Joe is the start of a new dawn."

He adds: “Most Reds fans also want to see Gerard Lyttle succeed but he needs to be far more ruthless with under-performing players and he and his coaching staff also have to show more passion on the sidelines and get as angry and frustrated as the fans; they really need to show more passion than they have been.

“It's over to Gerard Lawlor, the Cliftonville board, Gerard Lyttle AND the players especially now. Yes, we have been successful the past few years but time moves on and the club must show they care as much as the fans now.”

If you were in charge, Gerard Lyttle would be sacked by now, as you stated in your email to us on August 26.

The season was only a few weeks old when you demanded the axe should fall: “Gerard Lyttle is not a manager," you wrote. "We require a more ruthless manager who gets angry at the players, who shows emotion on the sidelines and who isn't afraid to drop the big names. It's time for change at Solitude...”

Four months on, do you still feel Lyttle should not be Cliftonville manager? Given the disciplinary issues the manager has had to deal with in the early throes of this campaign, Lyttle has acted decisively and deserves more praise than what’s on offer from you.

I don’t think you appreciate the size of the rebuilding job after Tommy Breslin stepped down. Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley shared 100 goals a season.

Chris and Ronan Scannell, Geordie McMullan, Barry Johnston and Marc Smyth were the soul of the dressing-room. Any manager will tell you it's not easy replacing leaders. And yet here we are in January and Cliftonville sit in third place behind Crusaders and Linfield - two clubs with bigger budgets than the Reds.

I have consistently defended Lyttle because his managerial performance demands it.

Off The Fence

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