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Kicking Out: Is the pride and glory of the GAA jersey worth the social media abuse?

Aidan O'Shea, Ireland's International Rules captain and Mayo footballing star, in attendance at the launch of the International Rules Series team announcement at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras à MÃdheach/Sportsfile

THE whole Aidan O’Shea full-back thing was the biggest talking point of the entire summer.

Social media decamped to its extrapolated stations and dug their pins in.

A catastrophe. A great idea. What’s Rochford doing? Rochford’s a genius.

Whichever side of the garden fence you peered from that afternoon, you peered nonetheless. And then you turned to the neighbours and talked about Aidan O’Shea, even though the entire thing was not of his making.

Whether he was happy or he wasn’t, one of Mayo’s best attacking players went on ahead into the line of fire and stood up to Kieran Donaghy.

Success, catastrophe, whatever, he isn’t a full-back and, like anyone of sound mind, never wants to be one.

On Friday night, he was rightly awarded an Allstar, though at number 11 rather than three.

Anyone that watched Mayo playing this year would know that, for a man who spent the early part of the summer recovering from a groin injury, his impact was monumental.

Yes, there was a case for Kevin McLoughlin, just as there was one for Ciaran Kilkenny, but that’s the Allstars in a nutshell.

There is no right for doing wrong.

But no-one else endured the invective for their success.

A quick Twitter search of the terms “Aidan O’Shea” on Friday night is merely further evidence of a pervading ‘the bigger they are, the harder they’ll fall’ mentality.

“Choked in the All-Ireland final again!!!”

“Profile over performance, a flat-track bully.”

“Aidan O’Shea also getting the sympathy vote, an award for a man who disappears every September.”

There is much more negative than positive.

These people are usually nobodies of course, empty eggs in a world where anything goes, only there to dole out unqualified and unquantified abuse.

Aidan O’Shea gets the hardest time of any footballer in Ireland.

On the field, he’s been battered around the place for the last five years, with officialdom’s complicities giving him no shelter.

The advice for players has streamlined and been boiled down to a single, four-word sentence: Stay off social media.

That’s sadly the society we live in, where the more ill-mannered you can be, the bigger a badge you can earn.

Aidan O’Shea is an active Twitter user, an even more active Instagrammer and if he’s like every other 27-year-old in Ireland, he migrated from Bebo to Facebook a few years back too.

There is plenty of opportunity between them for an inter-county footballer with a high profile to make themselves a few bob, if not an actual career, out of posting on social media.

Does the controversy, even if it’s not of his own making, help give Aidan O’Shea the profile he has?

Perhaps.

After he was announced as Ireland captain for the International Rules tour, O’Shea was asked a fairly routine question: Does football take up pretty much all of your annual leave at work?

“I can’t speak for everyone but I’m sure people are in circumstances where it just wouldn’t suit with their jobs but for me I’m lucky my company are understanding and they see it as a great opportunity for myself to go and represent Ireland so I’m glad I’m on that side of the fence.

“[My time off work] is consumed pretty much by football, it leaves me with a couple of days to do a few things but I’m not going to complain. I’m lucky to be getting to go on this trip on a team holiday and All-Star trips so I have been blessed to get on trips like that with the GAA.”

And perhaps those couple of trips away makes the abuse that bit more digestible for him.

But you still wonder at the mentality of people that abuse amateur footballers and hurlers from their own communities, who are giving up every single spare hour they have and more.

There are plenty of players that would have to take unpaid leave to go on a team training weekend. Others routinely turn down employment because it would interfere with football.

Many, particularly the ever-growing band of male teachers who just happen to be inter-county footballers, choose their careers based on what will suit best around their sport.

Who knows where breaking point is at?

We haven’t reached it yet because, perhaps with the growing influence of various sources of funding, this generation of players continue to almost annually find new ways to test the elastic on the boundaries.

But it’s monkey see, monkey do out there.

The unchecked abuse has filtered from the top down into the lower levels, including the club game itself.

You go on social media after any televised club game and woe behold the poor fella that made the mistake.

He’ll be slaughtered by people that had never heard of him two hours previous.

Aidan O’Shea might be able to handle it. He might not.

Who among us is to know that it doesn’t fill him with hurt or anger or self-doubt?

Just because he’s privileged to wear the green and red doesn’t mean his heart doesn’t pump out the same red stuff as the rest of us.

The normalisation of abuse is sad and while you’d imagine that anyone playing inter-county football has a degree of mental toughness to deal with the barbs, there must be days that Aidan O’Shea and others like him wonder why they put themselves through it.

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