Welcome to championship and a new summer of naked blackguarding

Tipping Point: Should the flower of Mayo manhood have been released early from the dressing-rooms to clatter a trio of attention-seeking gobs****s? Hello High Court

David Coldrick sent off two Derry players in their Ulster quarter-final against Tyrone on Sunday. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

David Coldrick sent off two Derry players in their Ulster quarter-final against Tyrone on Sunday. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

After an underwhelming start, the 2016 championship season is now up and running with just a couple of months of phoney war before the prospect of elimination for All-Ireland contenders becomes a reality. The GAA’s other kind of phoney war is timeless, however.

It’s there to varying degrees in every match. But it’s always there. That constant shaping and shouldering mixed in with pulling, picking, pawing, the accidental-on-purpose knee to the back or sly step on the Achilles, a provocative word in the ear or an elbow to the ribs, invariably accompanied by feigned incredulity at any offence taken, and all of it part of an incessant niggle that’s as cheap as a Kilkenny county football final ticket.

The remarkable thing is that it doesn’t register anymore. It’s become par for the GAA course. It is the exception rather than the rule if a sub doesn’t run on and automatically bullock into his marker, roaring in their ear, presumably about their mother’s well-being, and generally shaping to let everyone know they’re “there”.

Only when snide tips into blatant thuggery are pious calls for “whoa” proclaimed from the rooftops, usually with fingers crossed behind the official “disgrace to the association” declarations since nothing of course sells a ticket faster than intercounty aggro.

Should Kerry run into Donegal later this summer, the narrative will write itself following that league skirmish.

But if that was a “spectacular”, the norm is off-the-ball provocation, nasty needling and physical baiting which in civilian life could be enough to call the cops. Not that players acknowledge this publicly: to do so invites accusations of a lack of testicular fortitude from grandstand heroes and potentially even more targeting from opposition set-ups eager to expose any perceived weakness.  

It certainly rules out running to the ref, even though it would be infinitely more courageous to do that compared to the actions of some cowardly jackass persistently and slyly abusing an opponent in a game that both are playing for nothing bar, supposedly, enjoyment and fulfilment.

Second Captains

Players do privately outline stories about abuse and physical assault which makes one wonder why they bother to play at all, never mind sacrificing the best years of their lives to voluntarily put up with thuggery at its lowest.

Claims of racism over the years grab headlines but physical and verbal abuse of all kinds are still routinely categorised under “one of those things”, a ridiculous state of affairs made even more stupid by being part of an even greater bullshit culture which dresses this stuff up in cod-psychological, self-regarding garbage that the GAA specialises in.

Blood sacrifices

We can look forward this summer to more bellicose portrayals of county warriors and their blood sacrifices, or their stout defence of the honour and ways of life of a patch of wet rock which is supposedly distinctive from some other damp outcrop 30 miles down the road.

Everyone acknowledges what a wonderful social asset this sense of local community can be yet the definitions being taken from it are becoming more and more absurd, especially if an overwhelming drive to win encourages naked blackguarding.

The former Kerry player Paul Galvin recently outlined how he’d been in Castlebar for a Mayo-Dublin league game and been disappointed at how Mayo – as a generic 2,159 square mile entity you understand – had missed out on giving a perfect state of intent when three Dublin supporters strolled onto the pitch at half time waving a flag.

“It was a great opportunity for Mayo to make a counter-statement of their own . . . get off our land and remember the day you were hunted. Didn’t happen,” Galvin tut-tutted.

Revenge flank attack

What exactly does that mean? What was that counter-statement supposed to be? Should the flower of Mayo manhood have been released early from the dressing-rooms in order to clatter a trio of attention-seeking gobs****s? Hello High Court.  

Was Enda Kenny supposed to have sent the Garda driver onto the pitch with a bigger and more phallic flag? Should Michael Ring have had a poem written about the siege of McHale Park? Were paratroopers to have landed on Hill 16, taking Drumcondra in a revenge flank attack?

In reality it was a classic example of saying nothing in a way that says everything about how Galvin and others see themselves – the whole Gaelissimo hard-man bit.

So much of the championship narrative is filled with this posturing tomfoolery, often by management teams flogging glib generalisations as insight and justifying the consequences with that most gelded of sporting clichés – passion.

If passion is synonymous with phoney posturing, then we can anticipate a summer of oozing yahooery which will require cross-border super-absorbent matting, although obviously in different county colours so everyone knows which bit to happily pin their dream to.

And on the pitch the phoney war is likely to remain just as nasty and cheap, with skilful players targeted for the sort of “attention” that is supposedly a test of that other GAA trope – manliness – but which is usually just an excuse for inadequate talents to indulge their inner yob.

And no, none of it is supposed to be some hands-off exercise in aesthetic purity. But at a time when potential county players are saying thanks but no thanks due to the pressures of time and fitness, it’s interesting to ponder how much of it might be down to a reluctance to put up with bullshit.

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