Mike Quirke: Aidan O’Shea the fall guy but GAA must act on diving

Is the first guy to do it? You must be having a laugh, writes Mike Quirke.

I was a big fan of the A-team growing up. Mr T was my guy. He was the abrasive black dude ‘B.A.’ with the mohawk haircut, countless gold chains hanging around his neck and a penchant for physical aggression.

He was back on our screens in recent years driving a tank while doing a commercial for Snickers. The ad shows a guy in a Sunday league soccer game taking a dive in the box - completely untouched - trying to win a penalty. While he’s rolling around on the floor in apparent agony, Mr T appears out of nowhere... bursting through the gates of the local park in his tank and drives it alongside the downed player.

As the guy stands up, Mr T hits him right in the head with a Snickers and yells at him to “quit your jibber jabber, you ain’t hurt, you’re pathetic… get some nuts”.

Luckily Mr T wasn’t cruising around Castlebar last Saturday afternoon or the tank would have made wreck of the field.

Every season there seems to be one of these seismic moments that engages the whole GAA community and mobilises people to get out their soapbox and start pontificating at the top of their voice like a town crier.

Last Saturday, we had our 2016 moment.

Paul Galvin and the Paddy Russell’s notebook dominated the summer talk of 2008. Think Meath and Joe Sheridan throwing the ball to the net in injury time to deny Louth a famous Leinster final win in 2010. Or how about Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh rugby tackling Conor McManus to the ground in 2013 to deny him and Monaghan a certain goal chance? Cavanagh’s teammate Tiernan McCann’s act of simulation last year stole the summer.

And now we have Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea.

Did he dive? Unquestionably.

Do we want that La Liga-style rubbish in our game? No thanks.

Is the first guy to do it? You must be having a laugh.

While it does not excuse the act of diving, I wrote recently how big guys like O’Shea rarely get the type of protection and easy whistles from referees that other smaller players seem to get for the same amount of contact.

Referees look at the larger units and think - ‘they are big enough to look after themselves’. So to make sure they get frees they deserve, GAA players are getting good at throwing themselves to the floor. Teams are becoming proficient at exaggerating contact so the referee is forced to blow his whistle. It has become more apparent since the introduction of the black card with players adding dramatic falls to their list of skills. Every team has players who, when seeibg the outstretched arm of a defender, will grab it, hold onto it and fall to the floor trying to hoodwink the ref into a free. Part of the game or not, that’s cheating.

Kerry has those guys. Dublin has them too. Tyrone, Donegal… the list runs on.

In professional basketball in the States, in an attempt to keep their game as honest as possible, officials now review every game and issue warnings and fines to players who engage in instances of ‘flopping’. That’s the term they’ve coined for when a player exaggerates contact and dramatically falls to the floor in an attempt to fool the referee into getting a favourable call for his team. Players engaging in the practice get hit with a series of $5,000 fines and eventually a suspension.

Now I’m pretty sure the fines wouldn’t wash with our lads, but I firmly believe their mechanism is the best way to eradicate diving or ‘flopping’ out of our games through the use of retrospective suspensions based on video evidence.

Put together a small group of former players and officials to sit through games on a Monday and once a few suspensions have been dished out to players, it wouldn’t take long for guys to start thinking twice about throwing themselves to the floor.

Nobody wants to be sitting out big championship games.

The problem with a system like that is the higher profile teams who play more regularly on national TV would be under greater scrutiny that a lower division team who only get three minutes on a highlight package on a Sunday night.

The purpose of drug testing in the GAA is not really to catch drug cheats, it’s more to act as a deterrent to those who would consider enhancing their performance. Retrospective bans for diving would act as the very same disincentive.

I read yesterday where Mickey Harte was unhappy with what he regarded as a more balanced criticism of O’Shea’s dive compared to his own player Tiernan McCann a year earlier. But there should be no confusion, the two incidences were very different. McCann went down clutching his face insinuating he was struck by a punch or an elbow, in an apparent attempt to get another player sent off. O’Shea tumbled disingenuously to draw a referee’s whistle to get a penalty. Diving in both instances, but trying to get another player sent off in the wrong is a more reprehensible act.

Aidan O’Shea was the guy who made nothing of receiving a head butt to the face last year against Dublin in the championship. He didn’t roll around holding his head to get somebody sent off, he just took his licks and got on with it. But he cheated Fermanagh on Saturday, and he disrespected the game.

No more than Tiernan McCann, or Donegal keeper Mark Anthony McGinley back in June, he made a bad decision in the heat of battle to try to help his team, a call I’m sure they would take back if they could. But until the GAA draws a line in the sand and officially declares diving to be an unacceptable practice by issuing hard suspensions, it will continue to creep slowly into our game.

To coin Mr. T, stay on your feet and get some nuts.


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