GAA Football

John McEntee: On-pitch violence must be dealt with immediately

The Armagh semi-final between Crossmaglen and Cullyhanna was physical and hard-fought but never over-stepped that line that has been crossed in so many club games around Ulster in recent months

ANOTHER weekend, another row. Seriously? What on earth has got into people who think they can get away with it?

I’m not talking about a little skirmish, some pushing and shoving; handbags stuff. People are paying in to see football but instead are seeing indiscriminate acts of violence similar to what is witnessed outside a rowdy pub at three in the morning.

One group are drink-fuelled loonies while the other are fuelled on aggression and hatred of each other.

Wait, maybe they are not all indiscriminate – maybe some are planned – I shudder to think this would be so.

As I’ve mentioned previously, social media has many purposes. In the past it played a key role in fanning the London riots and generated interest in bare knuckle fights.

In the same vein, many people have attended matches over the past few weeks because it was flagged on social networks that there was high chance of a row on the pitch.

Of the four games I attended over the weekend there wasn’t a thump thrown. Rather, they were very keenly contested, very physical encounters but were all played within the rules and the spirit of the game, and they made for great viewing.

The Crossmaglen v Cullyhanna game was so physical that it made many neutrals laugh in amazement at its free flowing physical nature, but credit to both teams they remained focused and disciplined.

The same is true of the Armagh junior final between Keady Dwyers and An Port Mor of Blackwatertown – real men playing a manly sport.

No need for spectators to flick open their smart phones and I bet no one outside of the county is aware of the skills displayed by these four teams.

At the same time in Down, perhaps the most shocking video footage you are ever likely to see in a GAA game was circulating on social media.

It featured a replayed league game between Ballyholland Harps and Downpatrick.

The footage shows two spectators fighting then every player, with the exception of about three, jumping fencing to engage in a brutal fist fight continuing up the bank, into the carpark and back again as a woman can be seen being bowled over.

What possesses some people to engage in this is beyond me. Was it pre-planned? I mean, did one or both teams approach this game with a hangover from their first encounter with retribution on their minds?

Is the feeling between both clubs so poisonous that this is the inevitable outcome? It certainly seemed that way.

Then we have the referee’s ludicrous reaction to the five-minute stoppage – he issues two red cards to each team and allows the game to conclude, fuelling rumours he was under strict instructions that the game must be finished that afternoon. Every man who cleared the fence ought to receive a red card with the only credible decision remaining being to abandon the game and for the CCC to suspend both clubs and issue heavy fines along with suspensions.

It seems that someone will need to get seriously hurt before officialdom take firm action against such wanton violence.

I’ve been waiting for county boards to publicly condemn these unwanted acts but the statements are not forthcoming.

This is not part of our game, it never was. Every era has had their hard men.

Think of hard men and you think of Francie Bellew, Kieran McGeeney, Henry Downey, Greg Blaney and Tony Scullion. Rarely did they ever throw a punch in rage, never did they hop a fence.

Sport can be a microcosm of our society. Violence appears to be creeping back into society. Politicians reference the rise of far right ideologies and its increasing tolerance of oppression and violence, others will quote how an erosion of Christian values plays havoc with one’s moral compass and self-discipline.

I like to think in simpler terms. Look at the support UFC fighter Conor McGregor (right) receives from a loyal Irish following.

Is his foul trash-talking and ultraviolent fighting really representative of the youth of today and the type of sports they enjoy?

The skill set of this sport does not cross over into any team sport played in Ireland so what is it about it which gives it its allure?

None of the main team sports played in Ireland encourage or tolerate violence to this level or to the level witnessed in this Down league game.

Many clubs and their members may try to rationalise the recent events and can put forward some explanation aimed at self-preservation.

Attention will be deflected towards media for over-hyping the incidents and for providing negative spin.

As players with Armagh, we used to argue over what we would see happen during video analysis. One of our players, Kevin McEIvanna once said everyone tells lies except the video. It rings true today. We cannot defend the indefensible no matter how close to our hearts this may be.

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