GAA Inquiries . . .

Scotstown's Emmet Caulfield takes extreme measures to stop Slaughtneil's Se McGuigan last week.
Scotstown's Emmet Caulfield takes extreme measures to stop Slaughtneil's Se McGuigan last week.

When Paddy from Crossmaglen appeared on Mastermind in the ‘90s, his specialist subject was, “The Troubles in South Armagh, 1969 to the Present.”

Magnus Magnusson: Who was the undercover British Army officer who disappeared from the Three Steps pub in Dromintee, South Armagh on the 14th of May 1977?

We are embracing the twin principles of cynicism and formula.

Joe Brolly

Paddy: Pass.

Magnus: Which sniper rifles were favoured by the so called Crossmaglen sniper, and I need both?

Paddy: Pass.

Magnus: On the 25th of February 1985, the Newry Mortar attack was carried out, using what became known as the Mark 10 mortar bomb. Where was the lorry used in the attack hijacked?

Paddy: Pass.

At which point one member of the audience shouted, “Fair play to you Paddy, tell them f*** all.”

They don’t give much away round ‘Cross’. On Sunday after the Cross versus Cargin game, John Brennan alleged that Michael McCann had been bitten by a Crossmaglen player. On Monday, joint Crossmaglen manager Oisin McConville drew a line under ‘Bitegate’ by announcing to the press that an investigation had been carried out and the subject was closed. The terms of the inquiry were that, “We asked the players if any of them had bitten the Cargin player.”

To paraphrase the conclusion of that inquiry: “We carried out a full investigation. We asked all the boys (pronounced “buys”) if they bit a Cargin man. They shrugged their shoulders, looked sheepish and said ‘No, they didnt think so’ and if they did they couldn’t remember it. So you can all f*** off. We have no further comment to make. Up The Rangers!”

In fairness, they wouldn’t make great cops. I remember when the PSNI was formed, a BBC TV News crew visited the village and interviewed the great Paddy Short.

Reporter: Paddy, now that there is a new police force agreed by all parties, will young men and women from Crossmaglen join?

Paddy: We’re not built that way around here.

Regardless of their philosophy on authority, they continue to play the best football in the country, standing against the tidal wave of crap that is ruining the game. One of their lads works in a cafe close to where I live. Recently we were chatting about football and he said, “I don’t understand all these blanket defences. What’s the point in playing football at all if that’s all you’re doing. Where’s the enjoyment?”

When you go to watch Cross’ playing the audience is full of neutrals, just there to watch some football. It is almost a nostalgic occasion. Long kicking, goal-scoring, man-to-man tackling and an absolute absence of cynicism. Above all, there is an old style manliness about their play. It is something we should all aspire to, a marriage of manliness and skill. Instead, we are embracing the twin principles of cynicism and formula.

The Slaughtneil/Scotstown match was a lively one, spoiled by a familiarly depressing finale. Slaughtniel were in the midst of an electrifying comeback when good ‘game management’ kicked in. The Scotstown keeper Rory Beggan (you may remember him from appearing to faint against Tyrone in Croke Park) set the ball down to kick it out. He was all business. Suddenly, he went down on one knee. I thought he was about to faint again, but no. He began pointing at his eye. The referee ran in but couldn’t help. The physio ran in with a water bottle. There was a bit of anxious muttering between the two. Whatever they were discussing it seemed to be very grave. Then after a few minutes had slipped by, Beggan resumed his kick-out, driving it 60 yards. To the great joy of all present, his eye was saved, miraculously. It was mere coincidence that Slaughtneil’s momentum was completely destroyed. Shortly afterwards, Slaughtneil were surging upfield looking for the goal that would save it, when Darren Hughes jumped on the Slaughtneil man’s back and hauled him to ground like a calve in Hughes’ yard. This one wasn’t a hair tousle. He was black carded but in the last quarter of a game a black card is a joke. Hughes’ place in the massed defence was merely taken by the substitute.

In rugby, they do not tolerate such nonsense. In the World Cup final the day before, a cynical foul by a New Zealander resulted in a yellow card. During the time he was off the pitch, Australia scored 2 tries (14 points in all) which almost changed the game. The score was 21-3 when he was sin binned. When he came back on it was 21-17. On average, a yellow card in rugby equals 7 points to the opposition. The difference is that in their game, the authorities are decisive with rule changes and deal properly with the cynicism that can otherwise destroy sport.

So, delaying and cynical play are so heavily punished that they are no longer worth it. As one NZ paper put it on Monday, if Australia had gone on to win it, Ben Smith (the man guilty of the cynical play) would have had to emigrate.

Meanwhile in our game, because of the pussyfooting around, cynicism has become the norm