Kenny Archer: Carlow hurlers must be hit hard after inflicting Antrim injuries
HURLERS are hard. There's no doubt about that. There's a certain smug superiority in the caman community when they compare themselves and their toughness even to (Gaelic) footballers, never mind soccer players, but I wouldn't argue that to their fearsome (but not fearful) faces.
Besides, they're entitled to be smug.
A solid wall separated me from the action at Ballycran on Saturday, when Down and Armagh hurlers clashed in the Christy Ring Cup.
However, my close proximity to the pitch, much nearer than reporters usually get, still left me wincing when players collided near that sideline. I probably stepped back a little into the safety of the stand when they came really close to the white line.
The bravery of players competing to win a small ball by swinging solid lumps of wood towards it really is remarkable.
Without getting too schmaltzy, all 'not men, but giants' about it, that bravery is based on a certain code of honour, a trust that your opponent will not deliberately try to hurt you.
As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. When you're wielding a hefty piece of ash, you have to be fully aware of the damage it can do.
Hurlers are relaxed about the risk of cuts and bruises, broken fingers and battered ankles. Basically, there's an acceptable level of violence in their code.
Some Carlow hurlers crossed that line, though – way over that line - into thuggery against Antrim on Saturday in their Joe McDonagh Cup match.
Antrim's Michael Armstrong had his left arm broken in two places, while his fellow forward Neil McManus required six stitches after being struck in the nether regions; the consequences for the Cushendall man could have been far worse.
These weren't sporting accidents, the sort of unfortunate injury that can occur in contact sports.
As Antrim joint-manager Dominic McKinley said, these were the consequences of players "taking cheap shots", things which "shouldn't have happened."
The consequences for the culprits have to be as severe as they were for the victims.
Red cards and missing a match or two simply won't suffice, although the perpetrator against Armstrong wasn't even sent off.
In the GAA's Official Guide, when the penalties are set out for various degrees of dismissal, the same word appears first: 'minimum'.
It's extremely rare for GAA disciplinary officers to hand out any suspensions that are longer than the minimum number of matches specified - but they really should do so in these instances.
The Association must set an example that the incidents involving Antrim's Michael Armstrong and Neil McManus were unacceptable.
Certain Carlow players went beyond the pale.
There's been much debate recently about the lack of TV coverage of certain matches, and certainly hurling suffers in that regard below the top level.
Another aspect of that absence of TV cameras is reduced scrutiny of controversial incidents.
Imagine the outcry if such incidents had occurred in the Leinster or Munster hurling championships.
The damning discussions and debates would still be going on, and rightly so. 'The Sunday Game' would have had to be extended until after midnight.
Dare I suggest it, imagine if the damage had been done by the nasty northerners?
The photos would have made the front pages, the video clips would have gone viral, and the phone-in shows would have ensured that everyone accepted the need for a hard border.
There's a huge difference between being hard and being dirty.
Sanitised has, ironically, become a dirty word in sport. It's almost always used pejoratively when it's almost always a good thing.
Just as increased hygiene and food standards have increased life expectancy, so cleaning up sports has made them safer.
Gaelic games still have plenty of the contact element that spectators love, even if many football referees wouldn't recognised a fair shoulder if it hit them, well, fair on the shoulder.
Hurling in particular is still much more physical than most other sports.
Yet helmets and face-guards can only provide so much protection.
To guard against broken bones hurlers would have to wear so much padding that they'd look like Michelin men.
Instead, protection has to come from the players themselves, from match and disciplinary officials, and from technology.
A major part of the cleaning up process in sport over recent decades has been down to video evidence.
Increasingly, those who were dirty rather than hard knew that their mis-deeds were likely to be caught on camera and they would be punished accordingly.
Even without TV coverage, hopefully there's appropriate video evidence to ensure the culprits from Corrigan Park are punished properly.
Gaelic games still remain largely amateur, despite the almost professional level of preparation and training involved
Players should not have their livelihoods hampered unnecessarily, certainly not due to incidents which aren't accidental.
The GAA must send out a strong message in how it deals with the punishment of these incidents.
There's little point in referring to `minimum' punishments if those are all that are ever applied, nothing more.
The guilty Carlow players must receive a taste of their own medicine and be hit hard – which would also be fair.