As the debate about “sledging within the GAA” continues in the national media, like most who played the game for many years and understand what goes on both on and off the field , it is about time that the authorities finally confront this issue for once and for all.
While the Tyrone Co Board released a statement denying that any of their players were involved in any unsavoury comments made to Donegal minor Michael Carroll, the question is, why would Declan Bonner make such a statement if it were not true considering that Donegal won the game and that there would be nothing to gain in raising such an emotive issue.?
But Bonner is not the type to let any of his players be abused in such a manner. Tyrone have been under the spotlight already this year by some of the suggestions made by many of the Tipperary U-21 management team after the All-Ireland final. Tipperary refused the Tyrone management entry to their dressing room after the match to offer any words of comfort.
Take into consideration the behaviour of a number of the Tyrone seniors in their encounter with Donegal and it would seem from the outside that they might have a bit of a problem, but that’s for them.
To be fair to Tyrone this is not something that has just started. This is going on for years but because of the extreme sensitive nature of what was said to young Carroll people have decided enough is enough. But what can be done? And what‘s to say that this will not be forgotten news in another few weeks when something else will draw the attention of the media world.
There are very few players who have played the game either at club or county level that have not been on the other end of a bit of verbals. There were players in my time who would take up plenty of personal stuff and had no problem letting you know about it from time to time.
Often it would be said in front of officials who would tell you to get on with it. But to be fair to the referees at the time they were not equipped to deal with such behaviour, but in today’s world that is not the case.
Again I go back to whether or not there is a real appetite to deal with this issue because the abuse is not just confined to what is said on the field. Some of what is shouted from outside is not helping the game either. The year after I packed up county football I went to the championship opener in Ballybofey with a good friend of mine. We took our seats in the stand and from the first minute I sat down I knew it was going to be a long day. Seated in front of me was the mother and sister of one of the lads playing. In the first few minutes the player made a couple of poor decisions and a number of so-called Donegal supporters vented their anger at the player. They called him a lot of nasty stuff and when I pointed out to them that that was his family sitting in front of them they told me to mind my own business; not in those words but they had paid their money and they were entitled to say or shout whatever they wanted regardless who was sitting in front of them.
If we, as members, are going to tackle the verbal abuse that happens on the field then we have to go the whole nine yards and deal with it all. The argument is that modern players as role models for the younger generations should not be at this carry-on but where did they see this happening; yes the players and supporters before them.
The argument that because social media has opened up the world of information to see all that is going on does not mean that people in sport should use it in order to get an edge over a opponent in a game of football. This ‘sledging’ is a result of a lack of decency and self respect.
Yes, not everyone is a brilliant footballer and they have to use whatever tools they have in their armoury to combat the opposition and that is fine; holding a player or blocking his vision of the ball or his path to make a run is one thing but to dig deep into his private life and pull out something that has nothing to do with sport is wrong on so many fronts that no argument can be made to condone it.
This is not just a sporting problem, it’s a social problem. In the last few years the GAA have gone to great lengths in trying to convince all sections within the game to respect match officials; they have armed referees with rules that if a player or a member of team management say something wrong to a match official then they can be sent off and suspended.
Are players protected in the same way? There have been some cases where referees have taken action but they are few and far between. If it is going to change then it has to be at all levels, from underage to seniors, from players abusing players, from supporters abusing players and from us all abusing match officials.
The GAA have been accused in the past of being slow to change and drag their heels in dealing with this sort of issue. However, I believe that many within the Association are eager to deal with this issue, but how?
There are no easy answers but for too many years we have hid from the problem. If Declan Bonner does nothing else this year, he has done everyone a huge service in being brave enough to call stop to this behaviour.