LARRY RYAN: Culture change needed to deal with the melee

We should have known, when GAA Congress decided not to define the melee, that this would become The Year of the Melee.

“Given one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes finding the solution,” Einstein once said, not even taking into account time likely to be added on because of a melee.

Last February, Tipperary’s Einsteins proposed that we find out exactly what we are dealing with, as regards the melee.

“It doesn’t define it in the rulebook and for GAA purposes I feel it should be stated,” Tipperary GAA secretary Tim Floyd said. “At least if there was a number on it, say five or more.”

Cork’s Frank Murphy rowed in behind him on that fateful day, noting “we would hate to have Tipperary confused”.

But few listened and the melee went undefined. “You know it when you see it,” the New York delegate pointed out. And indeed we have got to know it very well since.

The GAA melee is now among the country’s primary growth industries, with video footage of melees accounting for the lion’s share of internet bandwidth consumption and playing a crucial role in the profitability of indigenous clickbait enterprise.

Regular readers would have anticipated all of this, and invested accordingly, since this page reported last year on the “quantitative easing of the melee”.

This dramatic shift in market conditions was first evident during a run-of-the-mill televised league match between Kerry and Dublin in Tralee in March, 2017.

There was nothing remarkable about the various scuffles that broke out roughly every two minutes that evening, at least if you were used to Gaelic football. While the untutored eye might have feared complete disintegration of civil society had begun, commentator Dave McIntyre even remarked, at one point, that it hadn’t been a “particularly dirty game”.

It showed what Dave had become accustomed to. But even more noteworthy were the actions of referee Sean Hurson, who wasn’t even hanging around to watch these bouts of ‘handbags’ draw to a natural conclusion. He was simply getting on with the game, with lads wrestling all around him.

At the time, it was even suggested that this approach could be a way forward for Gaelic football. That you might even shame players into getting on with things, by carrying on without them.

But overall it could hardly be considered a positive development that the shock factor of a melee — if that is what these were — had been devalued so much that even the referee had lost interest.

And it was obvious that Gaelic football — for this seems to be chiefly a Gaelic football problem — was in a very different place to competing attractions.

Soccer had long ago accepted the old ‘you can’t raise your hands’ mantra. Hurlers were finally living up to their ‘fierce respect, the world of respect’ promises. And rugby had enough on its plate with all the accidental concussions so had scaled back dramatically on the deliberate concussions. So much so that its moral guardians have been able to focus on eradicating other scourges, such as exuberant pointing.

But the Gah was, and is, a riot of rancour and malevolence, where a deep loathing of your opponent, his family and everything he stands for, had become a prerequisite for getting your start.

And sure enough, devaluation led to inflation, with Gaelic football’s many melee enthusiasts in the club game making use of this fresh scope to gradually up the ante until people noticed what they were at, and started videoing it.

A version of trickle-down economics.

Attempts to police these undefined melees have so far proved half-hearted. Despite the GAA adding the offence ‘contributing to a melee’ to its books in recent times, the CCC of the Kerry County Board was able to identify only one contributor to the melee between East Kerry and Dingle. Seemingly no other contributions were made.

But with outrage reaching Liveline levels, a ‘clampdown’ is now inevitable. So it may be time to get out of the melee business for a while. And just as in previous Years of the Melee, the target for this clampdown is likely to be the notorious third man in, with fourth and fifth men in likely to feel a little heat too.

But many will wonder if it wouldn’t be better to start off with the first man and the second man. GPA chief executive Paul Flynn, who came on as sub in that match in Tralee, seems to take that view.

“I do feel that it comes down to the rules and implementing them. If we are strict on all the little niggles and punish them, it will be a culture change then.”

 

Of course any significant culture change in Gaelic football would rely on the fanciful idea that offenders would accept any punishment meted out to them.

And here is where Einstein wouldn’t need five minutes to arrive at the solution.

For it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the man who wouldn’t see Tipperary confused back in February will soon have more time on his hands, when he finally finishes up with Cork.

And if we’re looking for a poacher turned gamekeeper to head up a task force on the melee, let Dónal Óg Cusack provide the testimony to Frank Murphy’s work during hurling’s melee years.

“Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman. No wait, wait. It’s Frank Murphy with the rule book... He can be amazing. He had pictures and video grabs and timelines and witnesses,” said Cusack, in his autobiography, of the time the Cork trio were charged after Semplegate in 2007.

“We were building a case. We were saying, ‘Fuck it, maybe we are guilty but maybe it’s not our fault that we are. Maybe we’ll walk free!”

They didn’t quite walk free that time, but Frank made the GAA disciplinary landscape a land of confusion often enough.

Time to give him a lock and key.

This is not soccer, Zeebs

This is not soccer.

That’s the one thing Nigel Owens wants us to be clear about, whenever he is in charge of a rugby match.

And he is forever vigilant that the worst excesses of soccer do not creep into his beloved game.

In that regard, Simon Zebo may have been on Nigel’s radar before now, perhaps since his shameful use of a back-heel that one time. Yes, Zeebs could have been a marked man after that one.

Not that we can be too hard on Nigel’s zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the bit of bantz on the way to the try line. God knows, if the rugby lads felt they had free rein to express themselves in their specialist areas of banter, we don’t know where it would all end.

So it is up to Nigel to uphold rugby values, to remind them and us that every rugby match is the definitive ‘test’ of human valour and honour. And that it must be treated, at all times, as the most serious business in the world.

Heroes & villains 

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN 

Tipp and Kilkenny’s old heroes: Fighting one more battle for a worthy cause next Saturday in Borrisoleigh. Buy tickets for the Amanda Stapleton Benefit Match on tickets.ie.

HELL IN A HANDCART 

The unnamed German goalkeeper: Who reportedly bit off part of an opponent’s nose after a clash last week. Most disturbing was the victim’s failed reconstruction job because, according to medical staff, “[The piece of nose] was not there anymore, I do not know if the culprit has eaten it.” Maybe the Gah lads aren’t so bad.

Phil Neville: Captain Overreaction wanted Marco Ianni — Chelsea’s answer to Zeebs — sacked for a bit of mild goading against Manchester United. Is Nigel Owens short a regular touch judge?

Andrea Agnelli: Juve president confirms he resolved a civil complaint and criminal investigation by looking into Cristiano Ronaldo’s eyes. Probably still worth letting the formalities take their course.


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