GAA clubs need to take a stand to stamp out verbal abuse
“This big fella was winnin' every ball that came in, he was destroying us. I was playing full-back and my father was doin' goals.
“They got a ‘50' and my da says to me and me brother: ‘When this ball comes into the square, yous drive him into the net and I'll put the boot into him'. Anyway, the ball came in and me and the brother got in tight to yer man and we put him in over the line.
My da drew his boot and went to swing at him but it got caught up in the nets and he fell down on top of yer man. The referee gave a penalty against us and the fella got up and scored it.”
Anonymous, county Monaghan
MOST of us who have played, or been around Gaelic Games will have been involved in, or heard, similar stories to the one above. The man who told it to me is the nicest fella you could ever hope to meet. He'd drive to Cork to help you out if he could, he'd drive to Cork to help out the full-forward his da tried to nobble on that Sunday afternoon many years ago.
But when it came to the football it's fair to say he was a different animal.
Winning, by fair means or foul, was expected and often demanded in the GAA at that time.
These days, the physical edge may have been blunted to an extent but football continues to turn quiet men into barbarians whose manners are left at the gate on the way in.
Let's be honest, although we may not support it or encourage verbal abuse, we all condone it by our silence and, on occasions, we might have been a part of it.
Referees of course cop a lot of stick and often simply cannot win but managers regularly have to bear the brunt of criticism from the ‘hurlers on the ditch' or ‘the men behind the wire' as one former inter-county manager once described them.
Managing expectations in a squad of players must be almost impossible.
Another Championship-winning inter-county manager once explained how it had worked for him.
“Once a fella is in the team, he thinks you're great, there's nobody like you,” he said.
“But if you leave him out and bring somebody else in then he's telling everybody: ‘Ah sure yer man hasn't a clue'.”
Nowadays, with more and more football on television, the amount of ‘experts' in the stands has multiplied and the amount of criticism directed at the man wearing the bainisteoir vest has increased accordingly.
I heard a recent example of a club manager, a man with a proven track record of success, who'd poured his time and experience into a club in an attempt to bring them up the level of their rivals.
He took the senior team and the reserves which meant it was basically a six-days-a-week commitment for him. He was taking training or going to games four evenings during the week and then there was a senior match on a Sunday.
Theoretically, Saturday was a day off but of course he wasn't off. He spent the day mulling over what the team would be for match the following day.
All the usual questions would be running through his mind: Who is away? Who is fit? Who is injured? Who'd work well on a big field, who'd work well on a small field? Are any of the youngsters ready for the step up? Do we play three men up, or two? What will I say to the boys before the game?
There will have been sleepless nights before games and probably sleepless nights after them if the result didn't go the right way.
All that work at training, all that attention to detail in preparation and then, when the ball is thrown in, it's: ‘You haven't a clue? You don't know what you're at?'
There was a drip-drip-drip effect until the manager decided that enough was enough and he walked away. He had made his decision before the end of the game and after the final whistle he packed up his gear, said his goodbyes and went off to spend his time doing something more enjoyable. You couldn't blame him.
Most grounds you go into now will have signage encouraging respect and ‘positive sidelines' on display. You know the sort of stuff: ‘If you can't be quiet be kind; It costs nothing to be respectful, positive and encouraging; This is not the All-Ireland final…'
These signs state things that should be absolutely obvious to everyone but plainly aren't to so many supporters and the message doesn't seem to be getting through because the free-for-all on verbal abuse has continued unabated.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the story I came across is that officials from the club concerned stood back and allowed the perpetrators of the abuse to continue unchecked.
“They seemed to think it was acceptable,” explained a witness to what had gone on.
“The manager turned round to them and said: ‘Am I meant to take that?' And it was: ‘Och sure, you know, that's the way it is…'
“At the end of the day, that's the straw that broke the camel's back.
“There's the officials and then the management and when something goes wrong it's ‘Och, sure they're no good anyway' but if everything goes right it's ‘Ah sure they're great, the best management in the country'.
“That seems to be the way it is at every club.”
We can, and should, all push for success but every club can't be a Kilcoo, a Slaughtneil or a Crossmaglen so the reality is that most managers won't end up with a cup at the end of the season. For every Messiah there are a thousand Minor Prophets who gives it their best but falls short because of their own bad decisions, or bad luck or because they just couldn't gel with a group of players who wouldn't put the work in.
But every man or woman who steps up to take a team deserves a basic level of respect and club officials who don't support the person they've appointed can't complain when they're left looking for a new manager.
You just hope they've learned to give the next one more support than they gave the last.