When hearing the word “tragedy” being used by former Kerry football manager Jack O’Connor in the context of Paul Galvin’s suspension on ‘Morning Ireland’ last week, I shook my head.
Tragedy in sport applies to situations like the death of Cormac McAnnallen and the Hillsborough disaster, not a footballer stupidly liberating a notebook from a referee’s grasp.
Why is it that certain elements within the GAA choose to close rank when it comes to dealing with any issue relating to indiscipline?
Around this time of year, when a player gets his marching orders, many a head takes a one-way ticket into the sand as tribal notions supercede logic and reason.
The common sense that defenders of an expelled player appeal for referees to deploy is quite often bypassed by the very same people who often lambaste officials.
That’s why use of the “tragedy” word regarding the Kerry captain’s suspension is utterly laughable.
The toughest job in field sport does not lie with those calling the shots from the dugout.
That mantle rests on the man in black’s shoulders, a figure who sometimes requires eyes in the back of his head to keep tabs on everything that goes on during a game.
“You have to have a certain passion for the game,” said Michael Curley, who ‘enjoyed’ a lively exchange with Cork football manager Larry Tompkins during the 2000 Munster semi-final in Killarney.
“It would be like rubbing sandpaper against sandpaper if you didn’t love it.”
Friction between officials, players and managers is of course nothing new in any sport.
But there’s little doubt that increased media coverage has had some bearing on the disciplinary machinations of all sports – and not just the GAA.
Things have come a long way since the days when Micheal O’Hehir broadcasted about a player “stretched out across the parallelogram” without mentioning that a force other than gravity was responsible for such a descent.
A little like the sex-free place Ireland was until ‘The Late Late Show’ infiltrated our sitting rooms, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was no such thing as foul play in the GAA until television coverage came along.
Back in an age when men were men and all that, there was no need for a host of different abbreviated disciplinary bodies in Croke Park to deal with ‘schmozzles’, ‘melees’ and the like.
Indeed, the only bans one hears reference to from the GAA of yesteryear recall that most heinous of acts – being spotted at ‘Garrison Game’ dinner dances.
I’m sure Paul Galvin is a decent man and that the contrition he’s offered since is genuine.
But the bottom line remains that he shouldn’t have done what he did. He crossed a line that a footballer or hurler cannot cross.
“You can’t really do what I did – the way I reacted,” said Galvin on Radio Kerry, hours before his suspension was issued.
“You can’t do things like that and I set a poor example to kids, so really I just want to say sorry to the Kerry fans and hold my hands up because that is not the way you do things in Kerry football and it’s not the way you behave in a green and gold jersey.”
By knocking Paddy Russell’s notebook to the sod, one could argue that Galvin pushed a button that Croke Park disciplinarians have possibly been waiting to decisively react to.
If the GAA isn’t seen to demonstrate that respect for referees is paramount at all levels of their games, anarchy would reign.
Galvin’s better judgement should have led him to voice his concerns to Russell and his officials in a more even-tempered manner than blowing his top the way he did on June 15th.
After all, he’s hardly a greenhorn plucked straight out of an Under 21 panel that a senior manager could be described as taking a chance on.
And, in this of all years, as captain of a team chasing a third successive Sam Maguire, Galvin should have looked long and hard before leaping as he chose to, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor.
“He is an eccentric character at the best of times but he went over the top,” said Graham Geraghty, no stranger himself to on-field controversy.
“It was strange to see him losing the head as the game was in the bag and he should be setting an example as captain.
“I’m not a fan of the CCCC as it seems that if you get caught on camera doing something wrong you are going to get punished. But only certain games are being looked at and if they are going to go down the route of using video evidence they should be using it for every game.”
Waterford senior football manager John Kiely said he was “gutted” for Galvin and described him as the “type of player I would love to have in my team”.
Added Kiely, who attended the match in Killarney: “Maybe there should be more respect for GAA referees like they do in rugby. What he did was wrong and he knows that.
“I think he apologised straight away and it should have been left at that. I don’t think he deserved this ban. I am gutted for him.”
Perhaps some good will arise from all of this. Perhaps players will consider their actions before doing something that destroys the body/mind/soul investment which modern day preparation for championship action demands.
Of course, to err is human, and Alexander Pope’s famous line applies in equal measure to both players and officials.
But referees, who perform one of the more thankless jobs in Gaelic games today, must be treated with respect and dignity by all players.
And while that may be difficult for players, especially when they feel a decision has gone against them, a bitten lip is surely better than a red card.
“Damn referees,” American basketball coach Abe Lemons once said. “I’ll miss them less than anybody.”
But Ralph Waldo Emerson’s sentiment seems an appropriate way to draw this two-center to a close. “Men are respectable only as they respect.”
So, the next time any of you players out there feel like cleaving a ref’s head clean off his shoulders, do just one thing. Think.