Ciarán Murphy: Kingston family melodrama capped vintage weekend of sideshows

The tricky politics and emotions of fathers coaching sons is a minefield

Last weekend really was one for the purists. I mean, yes, the hurling was good, but the sideshows were just 100 per cent pure, uncut GAA gems.

First, to Saturday. A trailer of hay bales taking down an entire All-Ireland semi-final is the sort of sentence that you just don’t get a chance to write in any other sporting sphere.

Let’s call it a hay-us ex machina.

And then there was Sunday, where one man’s eagerness to drop his own son for the biggest game of the lad’s career pays off – or backfires, depending on your point of view – spectacularly.

What I loved about the Kingston family melodrama was that everyone immediately saw a corollary in their own life – if it wasn’t your own mother and father treating you entirely unfairly just because they happened to manage your team, then you had first-hand knowledge of it happening to someone else in your club.

It’s a tale as old as time. It’s not enough for justice to be done, justice has to be seen to be done . . . even if ‘justice’ in this case is a young lad getting substituted after 15 minutes to teach him a lesson about talking back to the referee, kicking a ball wide, showboating unnecessarily, or sundry other offences you can be made an example of for doing.

It’s an awkward balancing act, as many parents get involved in training and taking teams precisely because their kid is pretty useful. Their enthusiasm is driven by the fact that their offspring is good at something and they want to nurture that.

So it’s all well and good when you’re mucking in at training, helping to ferry kids to games, and generally doing your bit. It gets more complicated when you have to sit down and pick a team and calm, objective opinions have to be formed about your own kids. That’s no easy task, no matter how talented he or she is.

If it's unavoidable in many ways in small rural clubs, it takes on a different level altogether when you talk about intercounty management. One way of dealing with it is to follow the lead of Peter Canavan, who has effectively sworn off the Tyrone job for the duration of Darragh Canavan's career.

Speaking to the Irish News last December, he said – "from my experience, when you have direct family involved it impairs your judgment one way or the other. Darragh's only emerging on to the team, I've a son-in-law in Peter Harte who's been there."

We should all take a moment here to contemplate the absolute minefield that is the father-in-law/son-in-law dynamic at the best of times, and then transpose it into a GAA dressingroom. But Peter, please continue, you were talking about the 2020 Tyrone minor team . . .

“There’s a possibility that I’ll have a son and three nephews on that team so in another year or two there’s every possibility that some of those lads could be at the stage where they’re ready to make an impact at senior level. So I think it’s easier for me, and certainly easier for them, to develop and get on with their games without me looking over their shoulder”.

Leaving aside the sheer potency of the Canavan bloodline, it seems like the smart choice. But he also added the caveat that if he was concerned that Tyrone were drifting, then he would feel a responsibility to put those personal concerns to one side and offer his coaching services.

It boils down to that – should you put aside your personal ambitions as a coach, just to facilitate your son or daughter’s ambitions as a player? It hardly seems like good parenthood to doom your child to successive years of failure under a manager who’s not fit to roll up your match programme.

If Kieran Kingston truly felt there was no one better than him to take the Cork hurling manager's job (a fair assumption to make, on recent evidence), then it's a dereliction of duty on his part to take himself out of the running for that job just because his son is extravagantly gifted.

And there's no doubt that Shane Kingston has got it. To come on in an All-Ireland semi-final and make a game-defining difference, score seven points from play against Kilkenny, and win the man-of-the-match award . . . that is the stuff that dreams are made of.

But there’s also the issue of whether Kingston fils would have reacted differently to the same decision if Kingston père wasn’t his manager. Maybe it was easier to file this demotion into the general 23-year old’s file of father-son micro-aggressions. 1) Refuses to pick me up after niteclub, forcing me to run the gamut of the taxi-rank; 2) Denies me unfettered access to the car; 3) Drops me for All-Ireland semi-final. I’ll show the bo***cks!

Is it, in short, easier to accept ridiculously unfair treatment at the hands of your father than it is from a random stranger? The evidence, going on last Sunday, appears to be perfectly clear.