GAA president calls for an end to ‘cowardly’ abuse of players

‘None of us know the long-lasting impact of this harsh criticism on amateur players’

GAA president Larry McCarthy has urged fans, commentators and social media users to practice restraint in their comments and analysis of the association’s amateur players.

The Mayo County Board released a statement on Sunday evening condemning "a number of personal attacks" as "completely unnecessary and unacceptable", following their team's All-Ireland final defeat to Tyrone.

McCarthy’s comments, published on the GAA’s official website, described some of the criticism as “down-right cowardly”. He previously commented on the issue of online abuse during his inauguration speech last February:

"Words matter, what one says matters, what one puts in the public domain matters," said McCarthy. "This was a point I made at congress in February 2021 in the context of, what Bob Costas calls, a corrosive assault on civility. That corrosive assault has been perpetuated recently by members of the 'critics collective' and by many people who term themselves supporters in their reaction to the All-Ireland football final.

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“The criticism emanating from these people has been overly harsh, unfair and in some cases down-right cowardly. It has gone well beyond fair analysis of team performance. Critical evaluation of match performance is fine, and expected, but overly harsh scrutiny of amateur players is unjustifiable. It is inexcusable when it moves beyond the realm of what happens on the field.”

The former Mayo footballer John Casey told The Irish Times this week he is "absolutely disgusted" at the level of abuse directed at some of the Mayo players.

Mayo have played in seven All-Ireland finals in the past 10 years, won six Connacht titles and one national football league. Nevertheless their failure to end a 70 year wait for an All-Ireland title has led to some very strong criticism both on social and mainstream media.

Team manager James Horan and some of Mayo’s most experienced, and successful ever players have been subject to particularly virulent online comments.

“It beggars belief that people who consider themselves supporters of a team would castigate members of that team, the management and the county committee in a crude and, in some cases, personal fashion,” added McCarthy. “Nobody sets out to play badly, nobody sets out to lose an All-Ireland, but it happens.

“Supporters, who are members of GAA clubs, who attend club games, and who know the commitment and sacrifice the players make, understand this. Unfortunately, it is a point that seems to have escaped far too many people in the last week.

“Stop unwarranted critiques of GAA members. Stop this corrosive assault on civility. Perspective is needed when commenting on games and sport in general - not least when players are amateurs. None of us know the long-lasting impact of this type of harsh criticism on amateur players and we need to be mindful of the positive mental health of others.”

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue is a sports journalist with The Irish Times