Sport

Andy Watters: Armagh debate crossed the line from passionate discussion to personal abuse

Armagh on the charge against Down in last season's Ulster Championship semi-final
Armagh on the charge against Down in last season's Ulster Championship semi-final Armagh on the charge against Down in last season's Ulster Championship semi-final

THE Armagh management debate was concluded with the decisive vote at last Monday night’s meeting and that should be that.

Seventy-five per cent backing was a resounding mandate for the current management. The clubs had their say and Kieran McGeeney can now get on with his business.

He should expect positive support from throughout the county, including those who may have preferred to see someone else take his place.

Of course, supporters are entitled to have their say. The GAA belongs to everyone but at times the discussion over the issue of the Armagh management crossed the line from passionate debate to personal abuse.

There is no justification for that and it certainly isn’t unique to the Orchard county.

Last season, after his team had beaten Fermanagh, Laois manager Billy Sheehan hit back at the “begrudgers” who had trolled his team mercilessly for the previous week.

All counties do their best to shield their players from the trolls.

Hiding behind a made-up name and a phoney profile picture, there are too many keyboard warriors out there hell bent on taking pot-shots at players, managers and/or match officials on social media.

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It’s not a new phenomenon either.

When a county is going well you’ll always get punters who mightn’t have been at a match in years getting the colours back out again. It’s easy then, everything is sweetness and light but when the team gets a loss or two they fade away and that’s when the volume of vitriolic online criticism goes up.

“Time and time again we see it,” a county official explained.

“When you’ve had an off day, or when you’re beat it can get quite nasty. In the aftermath of the team losing, people need to think and take a minute before they go online and start typing.

“Say you put out the score at half-time, or if the result doesn’t go your way you’ll get all sorts of comments.

“Everybody is entitled to their opinion and everybody likes to talk about what way things went but when it starts to get nasty, or when an individual is targeted, that’s when it gets dangerous.”

Getting called up to the county squad is the dream for every young player and, when they get there, they have to accept that dealing with a level of criticism goes hand-in-hand with the honour.

You have to be thick-skinned to make it and you have to be thicker-skinned to be it.

In the media the criticism isn’t personal; reporters will try to be positive and constructive in their dealings with amateur players but online commentators are accountable to nobody.

“You wouldn’t hear a player complaining about comments that they’ve seen online about themselves,” the county rep told me.

“It would always come from another player who had seen it and maybe felt concerned that there was something out there and they would bring it to our attention. We’ve seen comments that have been vile, really vile, and we’re able to take them down off social media.  

“County players know that they will be subject to criticism and that it’s part of the game but when it gets to that level… That’s when people need to get responsible and think about their actions. You don’t know who these people are and you just have to fight the fire.

“When games are on TV and brought to a wider audience you have more people taking an interest and you definitely see more of it. If a county is in Division Three you mightn’t see as much of it.

“We’re having to go through hundreds of comments after a match to look for something that is offensive or shouldn’t be there.

“It all comes down to personal responsibility - if you’ve nothing good to say, it’s better to say nothing.”

Marching on together. Leeds came back from 2-0 down to draw with Cardiff
Marching on together. Leeds came back from 2-0 down to draw with Cardiff Marching on together. Leeds came back from 2-0 down to draw with Cardiff

I OFTEN wonder how the British Royal Family gets away with it. How is it still ‘a thing’?

In this day and age how is the royal lifestyle still tolerated, celebrated even, while so many of their ‘subjects’ are struggling to make ends meet.

I had a discussion with an English fella about it once and his feeling was: “Well, yes I see your point but I do believe we should have a monarch.”

A monarch?

It’s a mad world.

And it’s within the crazy parameters of that world that modern football operates.

I also wonder how they get away with it.

The same rules apply: Obscene wealth enjoyed by the few that is all funded by us, the great unwashed. Recession is biting, everything seems to have doubled in price in the shops but still the Aviva was packed with over 50,000 supporters to watch a second-string Manchester United take on mighty Athletic Bilbao last Sunday.

All this nonsense about Man U disrespecting their Irish fans because they weren’t at full strength… Did the punters think Law, Best and Charlton would be playing? Come on, the fans who went to Dublin knew exactly what they’d be getting in a pre-season friendly and were still happy to hand over their cash. They’d go back next Sunday.

I asked a United supporter if he was looking forward to the season starting again this weekend.

Looking forward to it? He was frothing at the mouth at the very thought of it.

“I-can-not-wait,” he answered.

“I tell you what, it’ll not be your average season… It’ll be interesting… It’ll be exciting…

“Ok, if I had to bet, I’d say City will win it but it’ll not be the same old top four…

“Chelsea will find it difficult, Liverpool will find it difficult, Spurs – no Harry Kane now… Brighton… How are they going to go? They’ve lost a few good players…

“Arsenal… They could do alright, they might be a shout for the Champions League…

“Aye, it’s going to be intriguing…

“It’ll be interesting, I’m excited about it…”

“Yeah, I kind of picked that up,” I said with a chuckle.

Last month, as the Killian Mbappe will-he/won’t-he saga played out, I decided once and for all that I was finished with soccer.

A billion pound-a-month to play for some team in Saudi Arabia?!

“It’s insane,” I told anybody bothered to listen to me with disgust.

Last weekend I turned on the Leeds v Cardiff City game.

Injury-time and Leeds were 2-1 down.

“I’m done with all this nonsense,” says I, up on my pedestal.

Then the ball broke in the Cardiff box. Crysencio Summerville swivels, he shoots…

YAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSS…

I was off my pedestal and punching the air in celebration.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in…