At last it has been identified that Gaelic football and the game of cricket has a lot in common – sledging. Sledging is a term used in cricket to describe the practice whereby some players seek to gain an advantage by insulting or verbally intimidating the opposing player.
The purpose is to try to weaken the opponent’s concentration, thereby causing him to make mistakes or underperform. It can be effective because the batsman stands within hearing range of the bowler and certain close fielders; and vice versa. The insults may be direct or feature in conversations among fielders designed to be overheard.
Sledging in Gaelic football has not suddenly emerged this year. The term only has emerged and verbal insulting only defined but, verbal humiliation has always been there, always. It goes on in almost every sport. Sadly, it has escalated in our beloved Gaelic games. Back in the day, we even had ‘sledgers’ on our team. In fairness, it was more banter and light hearted and dare I say even funny.
Sledging is not only confined to the field of play. It exists within the media. Here’s an example of sledging on RTE last Sunday. Joe Brolly on The Sunday Game Live last Sunday was speaking about the tactics adopted by the Cavan senior football team when he said: “I’ve referred to Cavan in recent years as ‘The Black Death’ because the football has been, as some people have said, as ugly as Marty Morrissey.” A shocked Michael Lyster took immediate offence to the comment, reacting “No, no, no” and insisted Brolly apologise. “I should apologise to the people of Cavan,” said Brolly to which Lyster returned: “Apologise to Marty Morrissey for a start.”
During the half-time break between Cavan and Monaghan, Brolly apologised to Morrissey on air by saying “it was said in the spirit of affection and not meant literally”. “Well, I presume that’s an apology,” remarked Lyster. “We appreciate that because it was out of order, Joe.”
Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh was quoted extensively in the national press almost every day last week in respect of this topic and his concerns for vulnerable players. I agree wholeheartedly with his stance. Cavanagh was speaking in the wake of his team’s defeat to Donegal where there was widespread sledging. Both teams were guilty of verbal warfare.
What is the position of the referee and his officials in respect of sledging? Do they ignore it? Do they simply turn a deaf ear or are the rules in place which deal with this tactic? I know that one of the purposes for the introduction of the ‘black card’ is there to eradicate discriminatory abuse of opponents. Then why is it not implemented?
I watched two opposing players rolling about on the ground entangled in each other during this game. The linesman pretended to be totally oblivious to the altercation taking place right in front of him. This game was outstanding for this type of close encounter from start to finish. It was all over the park.
I accept that the Donegal and Tyrone game has to be put in context. We had two of the heavyweights in Ulster football and both deploy similar defensive tactics. So this was always going to be a game of attrition. Because players now cannot get too physical the emphasis has shifted to a more contrived and nasty verbal nature. Hard hits rarely occur because players are unsure how tackling will be interpreted by the referee. A player can insult an opposing player verbally and get away with it. It’s a safer option. It has reached desperate levels though. Because so much is happening on the field of play it is impossible for the referee to adjudicate on everything. He needs assistance from the other officials and particularly the courage to enforce the law.
Although the Donegal and Tyrone game was an absorbing contest, it exposed much of what is unpalatable in our modern game. Great footballers are not allowed to play by the opposing team. It is stifling the game. As I stated recently, our game is now like basketball. One team has the ball, attacks full out while the other team defends full out. Then the other team has the ball and roles are reversed.
At least in American football, the team attacking has a set of attacking players who only attack. When they concede possession, they leave the field of play and take a break. The defending team come on for a while to carry out defensive duties. When possession is regained, the attackers come back on again.
Where has the day gone when a player stands toe to toe with his opponent and play football incorporating those attacking and defensive skills that made our game so attractive? Where is our game going?
Armagh are next on the list for Donegal. Like the weather, I don’t see much change here. I suppose all that matters is a Donegal victory. Brighter days are ahead I’m sure.