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GAA must give abuse a red card


THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE Referee Jon Finn from Aghamore is pictured before last Sunday’s Mayo SFC match between Castlebar Mitchels and Davitts.  Pic: Conor McKeown

The way I see it
Ger Flanagan

THE referees in Roscommon made a big stand recently when they removed their services on a club championship weekend in the wake of the alleged assault in a minor match that left a referee unconscious.
The move left nobody in any doubt that referees have simply had enough of what is a cultural problem ingrained deeply in the GAA.
They were right too, because for too long the accepted culture saw a blind eye being throw towards that sort of behaviour. Obviously, assault is deeply frowned upon by most people of sound mind, yet it still happens today and goes relatively unchallenged.
But we’ve been raised to accept what are regular verbal assaults and threats made to GAA officials.
We even celebrate it, laughing at, and maybe even encouraging, the club ‘lunatic’ who has become renowned for calling it as he sees it’.
At times we’re all guilty of giving stick to officials – yours truly included.
However, the seriousness of the incident in Roscommon has been met with widespread condemnation and disgust. The referees received full support for their blanket decision to officiate no games that weekend which, in itself, is a good barometer of the seriousness it’s being treated with.
Whether the moral and social support forms into actions remains to be seen.
I’m unconvinced this one incident can inspire change in the GAA nation and fear the status quo will return sooner rather than later. It’s human nature to move on quickly.
But a precedent has been established and it will have an impact if carried through again.
The GAA and other national bodies need to strike while the iron is hot and launch an awareness campaign to further cement how everyone is feeling right now.
In two months’ time the message will be lost and we’ll be back to square one.
Mayo GAA were vocal in their struggles to recruit referees this year, and to their credit have managed to kickstart the production line again. Incidents like this are a huge threat to that.
Because who in their right minds would sign up for that? I certainly wouldn’t, and I deeply admire those who do, even though I struggle ssometimes to display that admiration on the pitch!
It was brilliant to read in these very pages about Charlestown’s Caoimhe Halligan who recently became the first ever female match official to officiate at a men’s GAA Senior League Final.
The game needs people like Caoimhe more than people like Caoimhe need the game, so the earth should be moved to encourage, sustain and hold on to people like her.
For years the organisation and their representative boards and officials have always pushed out the message that the game cannot go ahead without referees.
It can’t of course, we all know that, but I’ve always found the message and the delivery a bit hollow.
It’s time the GAA accepted there is a serious cultural issue there in organisation and invest some money in educating and making its members aware of how we should behave towards referees.
Sounds a bit elementary, doesn’t it?
Psychologists will tell you that ‘the first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance’. We’ve a long way to go.

Brolly and Dillon go at it
YOU can find a silver lining in a lot of things and mine in relation to the aforementioned refereeing incident was the public spat that ensued between Joe Brolly and Alan Dillon.
Fine Gael TD, and former Mayo captain, Dillon took issue with Brolly’s newspaper column that lambasted the GAA’s opinions on referees, accusing him of going ‘full circle’.
This was in reference to comments the former Derry footballer made in December last year after Dillon, a member of Oireachtas Sports Committee, criticised the GAA for the culture of accepting abuse towards referees.
Dillon had made his initial comments in light of an incident involving a referee in an underage soccer match in Dublin and tarred the GAA with the same brush, a stroke Brolly took deeply personally.
Brolly wrote that Dillon ‘mustn’t go to many GAA matches’ and added that ‘evidence and politicians are not a natural fit’.
Dillon clearly took the criticism personally too, it seems, because he waited in the long grass for nearly ten months to respond to Brolly, and rightfully so.
The former RTE pundit, and others, can be far too virtuous when it comes to this issue and their memory very selective too.
You also have to commend the incredible patience of Dillo’s play, because when he eventually got the evasive Brolly back in his crosshairs, he went in hard.
“Joe was a decent footballer but sometimes, and I know this well, forwards can have an off day and miss the goalposts by a country mile,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, events have since shown Joe was so far off the mark in response to my initial comments on this matter that he has now gone full circle to state last Sunday, ‘In the GAA, we treat referees like s**t.’
“I’m glad to read of Joe’s conversion on this serious matter and highlight this dark side of our games. Only by bringing these matters under the spotlight from such high-profile figures can we achieve success.”
The back-handed compliments from Dillon were a thing of beauty and he left the stage by dropping the microphone. I look forward to Brolly’s response.
Maybe in a parallel universe Brolly takes to Tik Tok and calls out Dillon to go a few rounds with him. Each corner selects a ‘fair-play’ man for the battle and the prize money could be arranged behind the scenes.
Dillon chooses Leo Vardakar; Brolly selects Mary Lou McDonald.
The venue could be a location off the beaten path, like Ballyheane.
The likelihood of that ever becoming a reality is slim to none, but in either universe having two big names going at it in public over a serious issue will bring more awareness about the issue.
Because, as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Unless it involves a referee being assaulted, of course.


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