A number of weeks ago I wondered if GAA games had got to the point where the enjoyment had gone.
There had been reports of alleged incidents involving referees, and fights breaking out during warm-ups.
Well it seems it’s not only an issue in Donegal. In the last five weeks games within the province of Ulster have gone to a new low. I say Ulster, but you can be sure that this is going on the length and breadth of the country.
Three weeks ago we had the incident where Sean Cavanagh had to be hospitalised after the game between his club Moy and Edendork. That game hit the headlines, not only for the Cavanagh incident, but also because the referee brandished 27 cards of one colour or another.
There was also the meeting of Strabane and Stewartstown where all hell broke out into a full-on scrap. The Tyrone County Board issued several bans out of the incident in the hope that it would quell further trouble.
Derry didn’t escape either. There were incidents in a match between Ballinascreen and Greenlough, and during a game between Slaughtneil and Ballinderry a row broke out in the crowd.
Last weekend in a rearranged Down championship game between Ballyholland Harps and R.G.U Downpatrick, the game descended into chaos when two supporters started a row on the side-line and one of the players hopped over the fence and got involved. The rest of the players and mentors decided to join in and the incident lasted for roughly two minutes before the match was abandoned.
It would be wrong to suggest that these incidents are only happening now. This behaviour has always gone on. However, with the advent of social media and camera phones, every little incident is now caught on film and is there for the world to see.
Hardly a Monday goes past without some incident or another being shown on Twitter or Facebook. And that places huge pressure on authorities to deal with it. But what can they do?
After the Meath v Mayo All-Ireland final of ‘96, the GAA made sure to make an example of the players to make sure nothing like that would ever happen again.
And while the battle of Omagh (involving Dublin and Tyrone) was sorted out very quickly with fines to both county boards and suspensions for the players involved, Croke Park had to be careful not to let the game be tarnished.
They sent out a strong message to county boards everywhere. Potential sponsors and investors, they warned, could have been put off with such behaviour and to be fair, the inter-county game has been well cleaned up.
But at club level, county boards are left to handle such incidents, and they can only do so much.
They are already under pressure to finance county teams and run fixtures. They must make sure there are enough match officials to look after both adult and underage games. They have to provide coaches, the workload is endless and just like the players, they are amateurs.
And while they do look after disciplinary matters when it comes to indiscretions by players and clubs, what can they do when it comes to supporters?
We all know the issues and you can be sure they know all about them in Croke Park as well. But they have a different agenda than most if not all the clubs in the country.
Is it time for the clubs to take control of what’s going on and deal with the matter themselves or do we just continue to turn a blind eye and let things fester, and wait for something worse to happen?
When the county boards were fined heavily by Croke Park for on-field brawls, inter county players and managers got the message. Would fining clubs have the same effect, or would that just make the matter worse considering the effort required to keep clubs afloat?
There must be another way. Clubs need to address their own members on their behaviour. Players, members and club officials must buy into it, and they must be helped and rewarded by Croke Park.
While Conor McGregor and the world of U.F.C can get away with all sorts, the GAA and many other sporting bodies are not afforded the same comforts.
Last weekend’s county semi-finals went to form with Naomh Conaill of Glenties having the better of Glenswilly on Saturday evening.
Glenswilly were never going to make it easy. However, the strength in depth of the Naomh Conaill squad was vital in getting over the line.
Gaoth Dobhair had too much for a MacCumhaills team who have stepped it up to a new level. They will have learned a lot about themselves and where they need to get to if they want to compete at the top level.
Gaoth Dobhair will have to keep their feet on the ground and it’s important they don’t let their supporters’ expectations creep into the dressing room. Like many others have said this year, it’s Gaoth Dobhair’s to lose but the disappointment of their performance in last year’s county final will push Naomh Conaill to be at their best.