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Elite level sport demands that players give everything in the pursuit of victory

Hook in the west

GAA HYPOCRISY? AIdan O’Shea has found an ally in George Hook. Pic: Sportsfile

Hook in the West
George Hook

THE outrage police were in full flow on Saturday evening. It doesn’t take much to set them off these days, but no sooner had Aidan O’Shea hit the deck against Fermanagh, than the keyboard warriors were pounding furiously to vent their anger.
Diver! Cheat! No place for that sort of stuff in our game... Tut, tut, tut...Etc.
I watched the incident a few times over the weekend and to be perfectly honest, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. O’Shea tried to win a penalty for his team at a crucial stage in the match and the referee bought it like a precious gem at a car-boot sale. Why all the hysteria?
So what if O’Shea made a meal of the tackle and took liberty with gravity. Isn’t that his job? To get the best result for Mayo and his team-mates? Is this not what the Mayo players have spent weeks and months, morning, noon and night, training for?
After all, Kerry have been hood-winking referees for decades. The Dubs aggressive, physical approach to the game constitutes ‘playing on the edge’. Look at Donegal over the past few years. Some of the stuff those fellas have gotten away with almost makes a mockery of the officials. Are Mayo not allowed to bend the rules, too?
And are we really that naive to think that Gaelic games is squeaky-clean and above reproach? Elite level sport demands that players give everything in the pursuit of victory. And when there is so much at stake, any advantage gained could be the difference between winning and losing; bowing out of the Championship or progressing to the next round. But for O’Shea winning that penalty, Mayo would probably have been out of the championship last week instead of preparing for the next round of the qualifiers, where they hosted Kildare in Castlebar on Saturday evening.

Double standards
I guarantee that the same outraged keyboard warriors last weekend would be the first to applaud a player from their own county for winning such a penalty. But when it is someone else, especially a big, strong, tough player like O’Shea, they all go to town on it. It’s amusing, really.
I remember watching O’Shea during last season’s football championship and I lost count of the amount of times he was pulled, kicked and dragged on the pitch without so much as a raised eyebrow from the officials. Now, all of a sudden, he is a cheat? Please.
If GAA fans want someone to blame, they might be best served turning their ire towards the association. The referee got his decision wrong, but he got no help from the two umpires staring straight at the incident in question.
All it would have taken was a 30 second stoppage in play, a brief consultation with the umpires, or a quick review on a video screen with a fourth official and Joe McQuillan would have made the correct call. But because the GAA is stuck in a time-warp, Fermanagh have to suffer the consequences.
And what about the two fellas, in white coats, either side of the goal? What exactly is their function? Is it flag-waving classes they go to, in order to qualify to be an umpire? Because half of the time, they might as well not be there at all.
I have lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen umpires staring straight at an incident on the field of play and haven’t a notion as to what actually happened. They give the referees no help whatsoever. And like video technology, the GAA needs to completely reform the umpire system.
It is not acceptable to have the match referee pick his mates for a day out, either end of the pitch. Umpires need to be trained-up officials with a responsibility to help the referee when needed. Referees have an extremely difficult job as it is and if the association refuses to bring itself into the twenty-first century with video technology or TMO’s, at the very least it should insist on using trained referees to replace the current umpire system.
If Mayo go on to win the All-Ireland this year, I guarantee no one will remember the penalty incident against Fermanagh. And O’Shea will be a hero for helping his county to end a 60 odd year hoodoo in the quest for Sam.   

Not perfect
There is a long way to go until then, of course, and Mayo have a lot of work to do to improve to the level required to win an All-Ireland. But if they do manage it, O’Shea will play a massive role, as he does every year.
The ideologists painting the GAA as some sort of utopia for the honest and virtuous need to get a grip of themselves. No sport is perfect and sometimes men and women need to push the boundaries to get over the line. Winners do it all the time. Are they expected to feel bad for it?
I am willing to bet that if any of the brave individuals that hammered Aidan O’Shea on social media last week got a chance to say it to his face, they would most likely soil themselves and run for the hills. O’Shea is an athlete and a winner and he did what most others in his boots would have done. It’s time for the hysterics to go back under the rock from whence they came.