Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Biff! Bang! Pow! Violence and the GAA

It is with a weary and bloodshot eye that An Spailpín Fánach has been observing the mild eddies of outrage in the media after the slapathon that was the Ulster Final. Same old, same old, I'm afraid. Peter Canavan will get his sending off rescended, Stephen O'Neill already has had his rescended, and there's a fortunate meeting of the Games Disciplinary Committee tomorrow night when they boys can hang a certain Mayo footballer out to dry as an example of the organisation's committment to stamping (boom! boom!) out violent play. And then it's on with the motley, as per usual.

God help any mother's son that has to referee a game of football anymore. The rules, as currently written, have been ignored for at least the past fifty years, if not longer. The famously quoted one, about striking or attempting to strike being a sending off offence, is about as relevant as that Cromwellian law that's still on the statues by the banks of the Corrib, where it remains the case in law that neither "an O nor a Mac shall strut nor swagger" through the streets of Galway city. And you thought the Rossport 5 had it tough.

Striking and "sorting out" have been a part of the game for so long now that to try and stop them would involve inventing a completely different code, alien to what we've been looking at since we were kids. The problem is that while biffing and putting oneself about evolved into the actual play, the written rules were never changed to keep up with this aspect of football's evolution, if indeed football in 1884 was as innocent as Michael Cusack and my Lord Bishop Croke would have us believe.

It's the Irish solution to an Irish problem, and when the game was strictly amateur this didn't matter so much. These things happen, it's a game for the players, yada yada yada. But Gaelic Football, for better or worse, is Big Time now, where you have men training every hour God sent them and all manner of dieticians and sports psychologists and whatever class of a lug you call those bucks who earn their wages by figuring out that armbands are what win All-Irelands. That's too great an investment in money and time to be messed about with.

The other problem with games going Big Time is that fellas are slightly more inclined to give the rules a bit of a short trip under the carpet. You take as much slack as you can get. For instance, when a player thumps the ball carrier in the kidneys, an offense of the sending-off-for-striking variety as outlines in the Laws, the player simply pleads that he was simply attempting to play the ball, and hit the kidney by accident. There is no law covering that player who's lack of skill is such that he never strikes the ball but somehow always connects with a kidney.

The GAA tried to legislate for this persistent fouling at the start of the year with the Sin Bin that was used in the league, but turned chicken once the moaning started. A pity; it was a noble experiment, and, if persisted with, it may have stopped the appalling vista of this year's All-Ireland Final being decided by the referee.

The referee in an game of football has his work cut out for him as what he has to do is enforce rules that don't exist. If you ever had the social dilemma of asking someone how much they'd like in their tea and for them to reply "I'd like just enough, neither too much nor too little," you know exactly the dilemma that faces any Knight of the Whistle at a quarter past three on the fourth Sunday of September.

What would be interesting of course, would be if a GAA dream could come true and Da Dubs were in the All-Ireland Final. It certainly be interesting if the penny hadn't dropped for who-ever is reffing that final that there is one team that has learned the hardy wee mon lesson, and that's our friends in Sky and Navy Blue. Did anybody notice how the two Dublin defenders in the Leinster Final that were minding Laois' dangermen, Ross Munnelly and Billy Sheehan, were both yellow-carded before half-time? Was that a co-incidence, do you think?

Not only was your faithfully chronicler astonished at how well Ross Munnelly played in a losing cause in the Leinster Final, An Spailpín Fánach was rather surprised he was able to walk off the pitch at all. And that's what this question about violence in football boils down too, the GAA's ideal of what they want their typical footballer to look like. According to the rulebook he's Ross Munnelly, but in reality, the most imprtant player in Gaelic Football today, player of the year, is Francie Bellew. Biff! Bang! Pow!