Off the ball incidents sully our games

News filtered through to Pearse Stadium in Galway early last Sunday evening that Mayo’s midfielder Ronan McGarrity had suffered a nasty broken jaw in a high profile club game between Crossmolina and Ballina. Initial reports suggested that it was an accidental clash of heads, however that canard was quickly rejected for a more plausible and yet much more disappointing scéal that he had been struck off the ball.Too often in the GAA we hear of broken jaws and on far too many occasions it is a raised fist or a deliberately flailing elbow that does the damage.

In my humble opinion very few players really expect to do as much damage as can be done by a angrily swung fist, or to hurt someone as severely as happened in this incident with McGarrity.

However his injury has significant implications for him, his county, and perhaps the pugilist involved. The severity of those implications should help to focus players’ minds on the need to focus on the ball as much as possible, rather than the man. It was a black weekend for discipline in Galway football too with five players sent off in the Galway county championship game between Salthill and Milltown. There was a melee in that game and reports of players being struck from behind, kicked on the ground, and stamped on, does a major disservice to the game those players suggest they love. Both the Galway county board and the Mayo county board are to launch full investigations into the incidents in the respective club games.

There is a wider issue too that needs discussion and it is the lack of respect for your fellow player that such violence implies. If players and managers don’t have basic fundamental respect for each other and a sense of perspective of what is important in the games that they play, we would have complete anarchy and free-for-alls on a common basis. Where would our games go from if that was the norm?

Aggressors in these situations and those who do strike opponents or perhaps even their own team-mates, or selectors, or managers, or referees - all can happen - should also be aware of the potential for financial losses as well as the pasting of their good name. In Galway, when pounds were pounds, a few different players had to pay a fair few thousand of them for assaulting players off the ball. Compensation has been paid out in a number of high profile cases nationally and rightly so.

It is not acceptable for any player to be punched off or on the ball. Admittedly if the O’Neills size five is in the immediate vicinity then there is some possibility of an error of judgment or accident, but if it is 40 yards from the action is it reasonable to consider it a criminal matter? From the perspective of the upcoming Connacht final, McGarrity is a big loss for John O’Mahony as he is the team’s dominant midfielder and he was in terrific form against Roscommon in that facile victory.

Tom Parsons is a capable deputy, however every player who is unavailable is a loss to any team and especially one of your most experienced and trusted midfielders. Hopefully the big Ballina man will have a quick recovery and if justice has to be delivered by the Mayo county board, it will be done so quickly and fairly. Every time there are national and local headlines about such incidents, regardless of county boundaries, they smear the good name of the GAA and we should all rebel against a code or ethic that considers such behaviour even remotely acceptable.

It isn’t.

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