Los­ing the head never works out

It won’t be easy to en­force sus­pen­sions as the GAA gets tough with cranky man­agers

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - COLM O’ROURKE

IS there a new ‘get tough’ pol­icy with man­agers this year? Re­cent ev­i­dence with Kieran McGeeney would sug­gest that the GAA has de­cided to set out their stall be­fore the cham­pi­onship. The three-month sus­pen­sion handed down to McGeeney seems to in­di­cate a hard­en­ing of at­ti­tudes at cen­tral level to dis­sent be­ing dished out to of­fi­cials.

The case of Davy Fitzger­ald is rather dif­fer­ent. Only the dis­ci­pline of the Tip­per­ary play­ers avoided a mass brawl and I’m sure there were plenty of Tipp sup­port­ers at the game and watch­ing on tele­vi­sion who were se­cretly hop­ing that one of their play­ers would ac­ci­den­tally turn him up­side down. The GAA has moved a long way from the fac­tion fights of old but a scrap, or even the threat of one, goes down well with the mob — even when they protest other­wise.

The po­si­tion of McGeeney is a bit dif­fer­ent in that his sus­pen­sion seems to arise from com­ments he is al­leged to have made to lines­man Joe McQuil­lan at an Ar­magh League match. Ar­magh failed to get pro­moted from the third divi­sion after be­ing rel­e­gated last year so there may be a lot of frus­tra­tion build­ing with the Ar­magh man­ager. He has of­ten dis­played com­plete baf­fle­ment with ref­er­ees in gen­eral, but if Ar­magh are not able to get enough points from seven games it hardly adds up to a con­spir­acy by ref­er­ees. Maybe it is be­cause Ar­magh were not good enough.

McGeeney also likes to have a dig at com­men­ta­tors on the GAA in gen­eral, but none in par­tic­u­lar. In that way he mir­rors a lot of man­agers who make com­ments about “so-called ex­perts”, but no­body ever names them. If writ­ers like my­self name man­agers or play­ers in a neg­a­tive way then surely the same should ap­ply in re­verse and we should have to deal with crit­i­cism. Of­ten peo­ple write to me to point out the er­ror of my ways, gen­er­ally in a mildly crit­i­cal way, but there are the usual num­ber of brave peo­ple who have a lot to say but don’t sign their name. That group sup­ply use­ful paper for start­ing the fire.

Now when Croke Park dish out a sus­pen­sion to a player the con­se­quences are very clear. They miss the next num­ber of matches, de­pend­ing on the sever­ity of the pun­ish­ment. They are not stopped from train­ing or hav­ing in­ter­ac­tion with the team but there is a ques­tion mark over whether or not McGeeney or Fitzger­ald are en­ti­tled to have any deal­ings with their squad in train­ing.

Nat­u­rally they are not al­lowed to have a role on the line in games but that is hardly a ma­jor set­back. In Fitzger­ald’s case it might be a ben­e­fit to both him and his team as it must be a dis­trac­tion to ev­ery team he has man­aged to see him out of con­trol on the line. There are oc­ca­sions when ev­ery man­ager gets a bit worked up, and I in­clude my­self in that, but if it keeps hap­pen­ing then play­ers will soon get fed up with the sideshow.

Of greater in­ter­est is who will po­lice the bans. Most County Board of­fi­cers will not get in­volved. They gen­er­ally are a lot less pow­er­ful than county man­agers and even if they have all the power in the­ory it is the ex­act op­po­site in prac­tice. So the Chair­man is not go­ing to put his oar in here as ev­ery of­fi­cer of the board har­bours am­bi­tions of be­ing in charge when the big cup ar­rives, so they are not go­ing to rock the boat. In the Premier­ship a sus­pen­sion is treated as ex­actly that — with the man­ager hav­ing no con­tact with their team from the time the bus gets to the sta­dium. They are not even sup­posed to have com­mu­ni­ca­tion with who­ever is in tem­po­rary charge. That is also hard to po­lice. If McGeeney or Fitzger­ald were on the phone from the back of the stand then they could ar­gue that they were on to the lo­cal take­away for a slice of pizza and a bag of chips as they were not go­ing to be able to eat with the play­ers after the match. That is an Ir­ish so­lu­tion to an Ir­ish prob­lem.

Of course there is also the other method and that is to com­pletely ig­nore the of­fi­cial line. It hap­pens all the time in the GAA. When Dublin won the All-Ire­land in 1983 with 12 play­ers, their man­ager Kevin Hef­fer­nan was sus­pended for go­ing on to the pitch to check if one of his play­ers was dead, half-dead or just tak­ing a rest.

At that time the league re­sumed in Oc­to­ber and Meath were play­ing Dublin in Na­van. The pres­sure was on to en­sure that Hef­fer­nan was not go­ing to be al­lowed on to the pitch. Brian Smyth was Meath Chair­man at the time and had played against Hef­fer­nan on many big days in Croke Park. In fact, Hef­fer­nan was largely re­spon­si­ble for putting the fin­ish­ing touches to an age­ing Meath team who had won the All-Ire­land in 1954. In the fol­low­ing year’s Le­in­ster fi­nal Dublin de­stroyed Meath and fin­ished the ca­reers of a lot of play­ers.

Any­way, on that day in Na­van Smyth found him­self in the dif­fi­cult po­si­tion of hav­ing to en­sure that Hef­fer­nan did not take his place on the Dublin bench. Smyth de­cided that he was not go­ing to in­sult his old ad­ver­sary by ask­ing him not to sit on the bench along with the Dublin subs. In­stead he brought out a chair and of­fered Heffo a seat which was slightly re­moved from the rest of the Dubs. Heffo grate­fully ac­cepted, the match was played in a fe­ro­cious man­ner and ended in a draw.

Al­most 30 years after their paths crossed on the field of play it was a very nice ges­ture from one leg­endary player to an­other.

Those were the pre-yel­low card days and, short of mur­der, there were few send­ings off in league matches. Cham­pi­onship games were dif­fer­ent, they were ref­er­eed a bit more strictly in case there were TV cam­eras present but the dogs could be let off the leash in the winter. You could also throw the odd ‘f **k’ at the ref­eree and the lines­man heard and saw noth­ing. Per­haps there was a bet­ter sense of hu­mour back then and ref­er­ees told play­ers to set­tle down if they had more than ten bad tack­les, or if their lan­guage was get­ting to­tally out of hand.

Yet it would be un­fair to think that all ref­er­ees have lost their wit. Re­cently I was told of a prom­i­nent county player who was con­tin­u­ally com­plain­ing to the ref­eree in a club match. The cause of his frus­tra­tion was the same as al­most al­ways — he was not play­ing well and his team were get­ting beaten.

Even­tu­ally he thought he would put his mes­sage across to the ref­eree in what he thought was a nice way.

“You’re not hav­ing one of your bet­ter games,” he told the ref­eree, who im­me­di­ately re­sponded: “You’re not doing too well your­self.”

That man should get the All-Ire­land fi­nal. He would have no prob­lem deal­ing with Davy Fitzger­ald or Kieran McGeeney on the line.

Wex­ford man­ager Davy Fitzger­ald tus­sles with Tip­per­ary’s Ja­son Forde at Nowlan Park

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