GAA Football

County chairmen don't need to protect players from defeat

Lamh Dhearg and Portglenone had to go to a second semi-final replay because of a bizarre intervention from the county chairman.
Pic by Declan Roughan

MOST nights just before I put my son to bed we have a race. It involves him leaping from the bottom end of his bed to the top, while I spring forward along the floor.

He always claims victory - but I always win.

After all, I’m much bigger, with longer legs.

VAR would vindicate me but I usually compromise on having several races before adjudicating it as a draw, or letting him have the ‘win’.

Occasionally, though, I insist on my triumph during the contest.

Sometimes he argues. Sometimes he cries.

Well, he is five.

I don’t want to make my child cry – but I do want to teach him a valuable life lesson, which is this:

You can’t win ’em all.

Indeed, often in life you will lose.

Everyone learns that lesson sooner or later, usually by P1.

That’s why the events of the past week in Antrim and Wicklow, rather than being uplifting as some have suggested, were so ridiculous.

In case you missed these extraordinary events, the county chairmen stepped in to stop shoot-outs which were taking place to decide championship matches.

Not shoot-outs involving guns, to be clear. Just footballs.

No rules were being broken; well, not until the county chairmen decided to intervene.

Antrim chief Ciaran McCavana started it by stopping the replay between Lamh Dhearg and Casement’s, Portglenone last Thursday night.

The look of bewilderment on the face of Lamh Dhearg veteran Paddy Cunningham as the county chairmen came onto the pitch to take the ball off him said it all.

My mind went back to 1982 and the bizarre scenes at the soccer World Cup when a Kuwaiti prince (and president of their FA) marched onto the pitch during the match against France during protests against a controversial French goal.

Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah would later claim that he had been telling the players to stay on the pitch (when most thought he had been signalling them to come off) but his actions led to the goal being disallowed.

McCavana told BBC NI that he had taken his actions to protect the players’ mental health – a surprising claim.

Sure, players receive harsh, often brutal, criticism on social media, an issue again recently highlighted by the Gaelic Players’ Association.

But winning and losing is part of sport, part of life.

These were adults, not children.

A cynic might suggest that the real reason for the stoppage was to avoid a potential appeal, given that Antrim were conducting a free-taking contest even though Central Council had decided in January that ‘Winner on the Day’ should be decided by a penalty shoot-out.

Yet if Antrim had sent out the old regulations, even if that had been done erroneously, then they should have stuck by them.

After all, the clubs knew the rules under which the competition was being conducted.

Or at least they thought they did.

It appears that another rule was broken, as there were not 96 hours between the announcement of the second replay and it throwing in at 8pm on Monday night.

Some good did come of the bizarre scenario with proceeds from the second replay going to charities, but its timing has done victors Lamh Dhearg a disservice.

The Hannahstown men should have had from last Thursday night to prepare for Sunday’s final against champions Cargin; instead, they had four days fewer. Indeed Cargin’s semi-final took place on September 22.

Ciaran McCavana may have thought he was doing good, but he didn't set a good example, and his action was dubiously followed by Wicklow chairman Martin Fitzgerald at the weekend, in stopping a county SFC semi-final during a penalty shoot-out.

Chairmen are supposed to ensure the correct application of rules. Both these men instead caused the premature termination of a game, which arguably should incur a suspension.

What's the next step? Preventing a player from taking a last-minute free or penalty, with a match tied or close, in case he misses it?

Most people involved in sport are sensible enough to accept defeat, to realise that it’s not a disaster.

Of course everyone WANTS to win, but only very young children believe that other meaningless mantra which is often trotted out, that ‘There are no losers, everyone’s a winner’. You may as well add ‘baby’ to that.

Sure, ‘loser’ is a tough word, indeed it’s become an insult - but it’s also a fact of life.

Not everyone can win – in fact there will mostly be losers – and no one above the age of six needs to be protected from that reality, certainly not in amateur sports.

There was some wonderment expressed after the end of cricket’s recent Ashes series at an image of England and Australia players drinking and chatting together.

So what?

England had won that last test, Australia had retained the ‘trophy’, so everyone had something to be happy out. Yet, most importantly of all – it was only sport, even though it was at a professional level.

Arguably the amateur sports of Gaelic games mean even more to the participants because they’re mostly representing their particular place, their parish, their home, their friends and family.

Yet the participants are still mature enough to realise that it is only a game. The pain and disappointment will subside. For most players, there’s always next year.

As I understand it, counties don’t have to adopt a penalty shoot-out anyway.

If you don’t think a championship match should be decided in that matter then change your regulations accordingly.

Indeed Down have provision for a penalty shoot-out in their football championships but stuck with having a free-taking contest in hurling, if required, rather than penalty pucks.

If you really don’t want ‘Winner on the Day’ then ensure there is room in your championship schedules for replays. Antrim can mostly expect to start their club championships earlier than most other counties so there shouldn’t be great difficulties in that regard.

Otherwise play by the rules, do your best, get on with it – and accept defeat when it comes your way. County chairmen staying off the pitches would help matters.

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