Ulster secretary Brian McAvoy admits the recent spate of brawls at county matches in the province is “disturbing”.
McAvoy was addressing the ugly scenes that marred games in Derry and Down in the space of three days, following on from last month’s incidents in Tyrone, where Seán Cavanagh received a nasty face injury in a tempestuous Edendork-Moy senior football championship game and the brawl in the Stewartstown-Strabane intermediate game.
The incidents were raised by Ulster Council executive members in a meeting with county secretaries at which they highlighted their dim view of such violence.
In June, officials dished out multiple suspensions and fines after a mass melee in the Armagh-Tyrone U20 provincial semi-final.
While keen not to influence or compromise Derry and Down’s competition control committees’ investigations into this past weekend’s incidents, McAvoy was aghast at what transpired in Ballinderry last Thursday between Ballinderry and Slaughtneil and in Kilcoo on Sunday where Downpatrick and Ballyholland faced each other.
Two major incidents in the space of 72 hours is disturbing,” he said.
“For it to happen at any time is disturbing. We have had incidents in the last number of weeks in Down, Derry, and Tyrone, and it is very worrying.
“After receiving the referees’ reports, we hope the counties act accordingly. In the provincial council, we took strong action earlier this year and were criticised in some quarters, but we were right to do what we did.”
McAvoy knows it’s not just in Ulster that such violent scenes are experienced but accepts it has become a provincial issue in the past few weeks and it may require tough punishments to stamp it out.
“Unfortunately, these incidents happen not just in Ulster, but in recent weeks Ulster has been in the focus. I just think it’s time for a broad look and people to take cognisance of what has happened. We need to look at our rulebook to take account of these incidents.”
McAvoy will make the draw for the 2019 Ulster senior football championship in RTÉ tomorrow night and confirmed the schedule will run along the same lines as this year, when the eight-game competition took six weeks to complete, as opposed to 2017 when it was played over nine.
“The schedule of our games is determined by the date of the All-Ireland football final and working back from that,” he said. “We don’t want to impact on April, because it is a club month and, in fairness, Ulster worked very well in April.
We are quite unique in that, other than one or two rounds in some counties, we never play championship in April, but league games go ahead and league games tend to have more of a significance in Ulster than they do in other provinces. Unfortunately, we’ll be forced into playing four (Ulster SFC) games in eight days, which isn’t ideal but it’s what the new calendar will dictate.
After several years of increasing attendances, the Ulster SFC suffered a 20% drop this summer. The difficulties of Leinster, which saw a decline of 29% this year, are well known, but the negative return for the northern province was more surprising.
Ticket prices have been held up as an issue for some supporters, though McAvoy believes a number of factors contributed to the drop.
“Attendances in the Ulster championship are no different to other provinces. The Super 8 is a factor, but there are other factors as well. It’s important to point out that the attendances weren’t down in just Ulster.”