GAA Football

Kicking Out: We need to deal with divers

It's coming up on ten years since Donncha O'Connor was sent off against Kerry in an All-Ireland semi-final for brushing Aidan O'Mahony's cheek. The Kingdom man's reaction was condemned afterwards but as the weekend proved, the GAA has done nothing to curb diving in between.

IN the Netherlands (as no-one anywhere calls it), they still talk about ‘Holzenbein’s schwalbe’.

Bernd Holzenbein was a West German forward in the early 1970s, and it’s probably fair to assume you don’t know much about him.

He earned 40 caps, scoring five goals, but he did make a lasting contribution to football with his swan dive in the 1974 World Cup final.

The Dutch were 1-0 up and in the mood to humiliate the Germans, except as winger Johnny Rep would late remark, “we forgot to score a second”.

And in one instant, football changed forever. Holzenbein had jinked his way into enemy territory. He had lost control with a heavy touch just as Wim Jansen dived in to challenge. Holzenbein raised his two arms, propelled himself theatrically to the ground and won a penalty.

‘Schwalbe’ is the Dutch word for swallow, a bird known to drop quickly in flight. And given that their greatest ever team lost that game 2-1 largely as a result, and the country still has still never won a World Cup, it’s not hard to see why they needed a brand new phrase to reflect their anger.

It was the first truly high-profile instance of diving in the sport and while it took a while to properly normalise, by the time Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann were flopping around at Italia ‘90, it had taken a proper grip.

But it’s funny that Klinsmann’s leap and roll over Pedro Monzón – who became the first man ever to be sent off in a World Cup final – is so reviled.

Sure, he milked it to the extreme, but had he not leapt out of the way, Monzon could well have snapped his shin.

The Argentine deserved to be punished for the intent and in propelling himself into the air, Klinsmann made sure Monzon got his just desserts while keeping his left leg in one piece.

There are dives, and then there are dives. And the problems started when players stopped simply avoiding injury and started routinely feigning it to get opposition players in trouble.

The lines became blurred and before we knew it, soccer had an almost unsolvable issue that it is now, almost three decades on from that 1990 World Cup, only beginning to deal with.

Retrospective action, as introduced by the Premier League this year as a deterrent to those successful in the deception of a referee, should prove effective, though it would be more so were punishment not limited to a particular set of circumstances.

The horse has bolted in terms of diving’s eradication but this will at least help keep it on a chain of some description.

We in the GAA thought we were immune, that we were too manly for that, but it turns out we’re far from it.

The first minute red card for Corofin’s Martin Farragher in Saturday’s All-Ireland club semi-final was the latest incident but sadly they have become all too regular.

There was widespread criticism of referee Derek O’Mahoney but it was very harsh, especially given that it was his linesman that called his attention. And no matter which angle you look at it from, Farragher’s knee did pass relatively close by the head of Moorefield full-back Liam Healy.

They don’t have the benefit of replays and all they saw was a tangle, a potential for contact and a stricken player lying flat out on the turf holding his face. It’s not difficult to see how they were deceived.

If there was any sense of justice then Martin Farragher wouldn’t even need to attend an appeal hearing, which will be a mere formality in terms of freeing him to play in next month’s All-Ireland final.

To think that he will have to defend himself in front of a committee of de-facto sports lawyers while there is no punishment for Healy indicates that there is a problem with how the GAA deals with diving.

Imagine Moorefield had won the game off the back of such a defining moment, and their full-back had been free to play in an All-Ireland final after such an act. That would have been hard to stomach.

The yellow card is the only thing available to the referee if he spots diving at the time and it is wholly inadequate. Worse is that there is no opportunity whatsoever for retrospectively dealing with it, no matter how obvious it might be.

The GAA tried to circumvent their own rules when they suspended Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann for eight weeks after Hairgate in 2015, hitting him with a charge of ‘discrediting the association’ while knowing fine well it wouldn’t stick.

It was another handy stick for those that like to beat Ulster football but it’ll be ten years this autumn since Aidan O’Mahony fell in a heap after Donnacha O’Connor brushed him with the loosest of fingertips in Croke Park.

Imagine how Dinny Allen and Paidí Ó Sé would have felt watching that.

Their era, where players would trade blows as they once did in a show of manliness, has long passed. And that is no harm in itself.

But diving has now reached epidemic levels in Gaelic football. The actions of one Moorefield defender were, let’s face it, no different from what you see repeated up and down the land.

Like soccer, there is a difference in exaggerating contact and flat out feigning injury. The former you can accept on some level because it is often the only way to get the free that’s owed to you for a jersey pull or a sneaky grab at the shoulder.

Accepting a player deliberately trying to get another man sent off by feigning injury, however, is much more difficult.

We can either go on pretending it doesn’t exist in our games, or we can open our eyes and deal with it because even one incident going unpunished is too many.

The first step is to allow retrospective punishment and the second is to give those guilty a two-match ban.

Such a deterrent is the only way to curb one of the very few genuine forms of cheating in GAA.

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