‘A melee on a football pitch isn’t that big a deal – most people enjoy one every now and then’

Last week was Armagh’s chance to set the tone and bully a team with a load of young lads on it

Armagh and Tyrone players confront each other early on in last weekend’s qualifier clash at Omagh. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Presseye/Inpho

Armagh and Tyrone players confront each other early on in last weekend’s qualifier clash at Omagh. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Presseye/Inpho

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 12:00

The authorities must condemn them. Managers can’t condone them. The media has to tut-tut away and decide that they’re the worst thing to happen since the last worst thing. But really and truly, if everybody’s honest about it, a melee on a football pitch isn’t that big a deal. In fact, most people enjoy one every now and then.

Okay, they don’t look great but they’re almost never that serious and it’s very rare that anyone gets hurt. They happen so quickly and they’re over within a few seconds so there’s no time to do any damage. Or have any damage done to you, for that matter. So it’s pointless making out that anyone’s ever in big physical danger.

The point of a melee is never to go and hurt someone. It’s much more about mindset and purpose and getting the upper hand mentally. It’s about making a stand, sending out a message. We’re not going to be bullied here today.

It isn’t all aimed at the opposition either. A bit of a melee early on gets your own players pumped. It gets the blood flowing. It tells fellas that this is a day for everybody to get involved. We’ll all play football in a while but this is what we’re doing now. Join in and don’t be slow about it.

Be bullied

Of course, it’s all very macho. But it doesn’t always work out the way you plan it. I remember an International Rules game in Croke Park where we talked in the dressing room about the old Willie John McBride 99 call. It was half-time and things were getting a bit tasty and Kieran McGeeney said: “Look, we’re not going to be bullied by these fellas.” If it was going to start, it was going to be one-in, all-in.

Lo and behold, Brendan Jer O’Sullivan from Cork found himself being set upon by two Aussies underneath the Cusack Stand in the second half. But none of us saw it, we were all following the play. Poor Brendan Jer was giving as good as he was getting against these two lads and in his head he was counting the seconds until the all-in part of the plan kicked into action.

And he waited. And he waited. No posse. No 99 call. He came into the dressing room afterwards going – “so much for the cavalry, lads”. And most of us looked at him with blank faces. Half of us didn’t know anything had even happened.

Armagh weren’t leaving that to chance on Sunday, just as they didn’t leave it to chance against Cavan. The idea wasn’t to take anybody out, it was more about drawing a line in the sand and setting a tone for the day. We’re here, we’re mad for action and ye lads better start asking yourselves how much of this ye can take. Cavan didn’t want a whole pile to do with it, Tyrone didn’t either.

It’s obviously rehearsed. There has obviously been a discussion about it beforehand. Maybe we’re supposed to believe it’s a coincidence that in four Armagh games so far this summer, two have started with an all-in melee. If you believe that . . .

Both times

But I don’t think it’s anything to be overly ashamed of either. It worked both times. They beat Cavan, they beat Tyrone. Their supporters – who haven’t been all that gone on the Armagh team for the past few years – got behind them because, rightly or wrongly, a good row at the start of a game makes people believe these players are prepared to go to war. Even if it’s only pulling and dragging, it looks like fellas putting their bodies on the line and it gets people riled up.

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