Latest GAA 'provocation' controversy just another case of blind parochialism

The very core of the GAA is about protecting your own patch. There is nothing more precious than standing up for your own people against any and all who would oppose them, or try to cause them harm.

Essentially, our Gaelic teams are the living, breathing embodiment of blind parochialism. 

Try as we might, whether it be club or county, it’s difficult not to be blinkered by our own colours. 

It happens to even the best of them.

Mickey Harte came out after Tyrone’s epic battle with Mayo claiming that his talisman Sean Cavanagh was targeted unfairly, and that it ultimately led to his second yellow and dismissal from the game. 

He’s probably correct, but Mickey really hasn’t a leg to stand on here. 

The three-time all-Ireland winning manager said: “I know this for sure, Sean Cavanagh doesn’t go looking for cards, never did in his whole career, and it seems a shame that he be a victim of somebody else enticing him into that kind of arena.” 

I nearly choked on my tea reading it.

Pottle, kettle, black.

One of the first diagonal balls kicked in to Aidan O’Shea at the edge of the square saw him win it cleanly and take on his man. 

He found himself dispossessed fairly by a strong tackle from Colm Cavanagh. 

As O’Shea was getting himself off the floor, Cavanagh proceeded to stoop down and roar aggressively in his ear for a few seconds to try and draw a reaction.

Justin McMahon was giving it loads early on too. 

Talking smack to Andy Moran and anybody else who would listen. Sledging hard to see if he could get somebody to snap. Anybody.

There were others - not just this season, but for many years during Mickey Harte’s tenure. 

Tyrone have thrived primarily because they have had some exceptional footballers who have been well coached and have fostered a real sense of togetherness through their shared experiences down the years. 

But don’t be fooled by Mickey Harte’s indignation at the tables being turned last weekend, sledging and targeting players has been something of a recurring theme during his time in charge.

And don’t get me wrong. This isn’t just a Tyrone thing.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin is also afflicted by the same shade of parochialism. 

He let his feelings be known to the media after their hard fought win over Donegal that “we all knew that would happen, that some of our players would receive special attention”.

Jim’s on shaky enough ground here, cribbing about his players receiving ‘special attention’ while he consistently allows similar treatment to be dished out by the likes of Philly McMahon and continues to regale him as a hero. And don’t give me any rubbish about people victimising poor Philly. 

The guy has an incredible catalogue of methods of provocation that range beyond constant in-your-face sledging. And again, don’t get it twisted. 

My point is not that Philly is bad guy, I would absolutely love if he played for Kerry.

Every top team needs those guys, someone who’ll willingly do the ugly gritty stuff that others don’t really want to pretend is even a part of winning.

But my issue is that Jim Gavin is in no position to criticise Donegal for attempting to get a reaction out of Diarmuid Connolly, when it is nothing that some of his players haven’t done to others under his watch.

And of course we’re not immune to the same blinkered view of our own players down here in Kerry. 

Sure we never had guys who crossed the disciplinary line during games. They never open their mouths on the football field and are always the perfect role models… 

Yeah, right.

Whenever I mention Philly, somebody always counters with ‘what about Aidan O’Mahony’. 

When I put it out there about sledging, I get flooded with stuff about Donaghy’s constant in-your-face chatter during games. 

Mention Diarmuid Connolly’s apparent short fuse, and Paul Galvin’s disciplinary record is thrown at you from a different angle.

It’s classic school yard behaviour - GAA counter parochialism at its best.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice came out after the league final defeat to Dublin a few months ago about how Donaghy was ‘raped and pillaged’ any time the ball was kicked into him. 

And again, he had a valid point. But by the same token, he had no problem when it was Michael Murphy who was left with a broken spirit during the 2014 final from Kerry players constantly manhandling him off the ball until he nearly just quit running out of pure frustration.

Every team has them and every team needs them.

We vehemently protect our own - ’if you want to condemn one of our players, well you’re getting it back ten-fold about one of yours’ seems to be the logic.

The top players in our game are without question at times subject to over-the-top verbal and physical treatment that is specifically intended to elicit a reaction borne out of anger and frustration.

They want you to snap and lash out.

It’s not a new phenomenon that a player can run up to another, grab him and wrestle him to the floor and both players are somehow issued with a yellow. One more mistimed tackle and your day is done.

It’s guerrilla warfare. Sneaky and underhanded, but hugely effective. And is very difficult for a referee and his team of officials to stamp out of a game. 

Sure, they should be able to pick out the instigator in a two-man rumble, but how are they supposed to know if the other one didn’t first make some heinous remark to set it off?

Players themselves need to the leaders here. 

But they still need a mechanism where they can properly cite opposition players during half-time or after matches so it can be brought to match officials attention in a meaningful way. 

Put these regular perpetrators on a watch list and let them know their behaviour is being monitored more closely. 

If they persist, hit them with a black card and get them off the field. There is no quick fix.

But managers and supporters can’t have it both ways.

If your team systematically targets top opposition players for specific off-the-ball abuse, or you willingly turn a blind eye and allow your own players impunity to do as they please in that regard, then do us all a favour and don’t be talking out of both sides of your mouth when you suddenly become the victim..


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