It was distressing to listen to an interview given on RTE Radio last Friday 5th December by a GAA referee who attempted suicide as a result of abuse he received after a game he refereed.
Patrick Nelis, a native of Tyrone officiated at the 2013 Meath County final between Summerhill and Na Fianna and he felt pleased with his performance. He received torrents of abuse on social media though in the aftermath. At least one player went online to denigrate this man.
It is a cowardly act to resort to online abuse of anyone and highly offensive. “I was depressed in late 2012, and in 2013 I wasn’t too well,” he said. “There was a period before than when I put on an awful lot of weight, because of the medication and everything else.” I got abuse before that, but after the county final, the abuse that was directed at me was horrendous.”
I can empathise with Mr. McNelis because I too went through a long bout of depression. But nobody ever knows what an individual is suffering in silence particularly when it’s depression.
One has to realise that GAA football is a sport and should not be a matter of life and death. In this case it could have been. Managers, supporters and players alike say things in the heat of the battle. These comments should be taken on board by officials in this context. The difference in this instance is that the comments were premeditated and calculated.
Mr. Nelis did not deserve this nor does anyone deserve to be denigrated on social internet sites. This is obviously one of the negative aspects of our wonderful internet. Cowards are rampant. I hope that Mr. Nelis makes a full recovery and in the future he must ignore the ignoramuses who post derogatory comments.
I have had my own issues with referees down the years. Which intercounty high profile player has not? Referees do not always get their decisions right. This is human error and it goes without saying that we all accept this. I received a three month ban in 2012 for verbally challenging a referee.
I too went through an awful time then. My pending suspension was reported in ’The Sun’ newspaper on 25th July 2012. I appealed my sentence to the Ulster Council. Here is part of the statement I read to the hearing committee that evening in Armagh: “I feel that my name and the name of my family have been defamed and criminalised as a result by the national media. My wife and my two daughters also have had their reputations tarnished.”
The year 2012 was a great year for Donegal and I was a member of the back room team. Donegal had just won the Ulster title. Of course I was ‘headline’ news because of my own success as an inter-county player and now as a member of McGuinness’s staff. Before my citation was even heard by the CCC, I was in the national headlines for my alleged “verbal abuse of and interference with” this official. I was subsequently charged on both accounts. I can accept the first but never the second. Mea culpa! Any of you, who have never disagreed with a referee’s decision, please put your hands up. I suspect very few, if any. And those of you who thought that I am a living saint, you are also wrong. By the way all saints were sinners, though. I rest my case
Since this is a time of goodwill I hope that we can all have a clear conscience in the lead up to Christmas. We are in the season of Advent when we await the celebration of the birth of a very special man. As our little country more and more conforms to secularity we have forgotten what Christmas is all about. Rarely will you hear anything on our televisions about the meaning of ‘Christ’s Mass’.
Some people suggest that Christmas has pagan origins. Firstly, Christmas was established by the Catholic Church and secondly the Church provided celebrating the birth of Christ as an alternative to a pagan holiday (Sol Invictus) occurring at the same time. So it is precisely anti-pagan in origin. The word “Christmas” first appeared in 1038. But this Church festival has been celebrated since about A.D. 200. The exact date and month of Christmas is under dispute. Different calendars existed throughout the centuries and millennia eventually arriving as what we know today as the Gregorian calendar. So there you have a little history about Christmas. It can be an awfully lonely time for a lot of people too.
So spare a thought for those who find this time of year tough. We have certainly lost the true meaning if it. Still, if kept in context it is a great time of receiving and giving where good nature prevails. It is also a wonderful time to clear one’s conscience and begin anew. And as the Derry Santa says, “Ho ho ho hi!
Keep the faith.