Dunloy, Ballymena

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Apo-GAA-lypse Now?

"Violence begets violence. Toughness begets a greater toughness." Martin Luther King Jr

Much like when a melee breaks out on the pitch, I told myself I wasn't going to get involved. But here we are, swinging the proverbial handbag while at the same time bemoaning the futility of it all.

It's the hot topic at the minute and one on which everyone has an opinion. Even the Nolan Show, operator of the North's most energetic wooden spoon, appeared to weigh in on the issue on his radio show on Tuesday morning.

Cahir O'Kane put it aptly in the Irish News this week when he wrote that "there are very few people who ever set foot on a football pitch who are in a position for moralising when it happens to someone else."

He's right, we've all been involved with one at some point, generally in around the U16/Minor mark where the physicality stakes are upped and an alarming amount of players sense the end of their careers and therefore a diminished responsibility in their eyes.

While the serious nature of these incidents should not be downplayed, some are not without their amusing sideshows.

If you look hard enough at the footage of the incident at the Ballinderry v Kilrea match a few years ago, while the apocalypse was breaking in front of the stand, you'll spot Ballinderry's John Quinn taking advantage of the interlude to get some extra free-taking practice in.

I recall an U16 league match with Lathárna Óg, the hurling club in Larne, when all hell broke loose. There were hurls being broken, jostling all over the pitch and one or two punches connecting. When the dust settled, and it always does, a frantic Mickey Quinn came cantering out of the changing rooms, struggling with the string on his shorts.

Mickey had been taken short while occupying the substitutes' bench, and on hearing the commotion had sped the process up as best he could, arriving a disappointed man as all the action had subsided.

The readiness of cameras among the crowd, rightly or wrongly, has brought this issue to the fore, but this is not the first time. In 2012, while working as a researcher with Triplevision Productions, we had been preparing a documentary focusing on attacks on GAA referees following a spate of such attacks.

The frenzy then was reminiscent of what we are currently going through this season, the different camps merging, some lambasting the videographers for providing a stick with which to beat the association, others condemning the violence in the strongest possible terms, while others still incredibly seeking to justify it as 'part of the game'.

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm firmly in the middle camp of absolute condemnation. But why has it raised its head again? Why wasn't it stamped out like all the commentators and officials said they were determined to do six years ago?

The reason this has happened over and over is that nothing substantive is ever done about it by officialdom. Much of the time they claim to be bound by the referee's report. Put yourself in their shoes, the shoes of Benny Quinn or Dan Mullan, pursued by a baying mob of what you would call supporters in the loosest possible terms.

Imagine trying to clearly recall the details as you dodge the flailing fists and foaming mouths of those intent on causing you harm. Imagine the possibility of recriminations should you start naming names in your report.

Sometimes the suspension of an entire club is mooted, but this is grossly unfair on the majority of Gaels within the clubs, who find the behaviour of those committing these acts abhorrent. The answer has to lie with individual punishments that are both enforceable and substantial enough to act as a deterrent and with this, those videos can only be a good thing. On the correct platform of course.

There is a longer term solution needed however, and as happens so often, it lies in education. Players need to understand the possible consequences of raising your hands in anger. The fact that you are on a green rectangle of grass does not change the fact that one punch can kill.

This fact has been laid out in black and white by many commentators this week, Cahal Carvill in the Gaelic Life using his courtroom experience to illustrate the point as soberly as possible.

"Imagine for a second if you had been the player who threw a fist and after the melee ends and the dust settles, a young man at the end of the assault lies lifeless on the ground. How could anyone live with that on their conscience?"

The GAA needs to throw resources at this. We do not need to be sitting here in another six years' time discussing the same issues as the GAA-bashers froth at the mouth over a myriad of freshly-cut battering sticks.

Violence does indeed beget violence. People watch these incidents, see the perpetrators going unchecked and the next time they find themselves in the situation, they subconsciously use that information to make a decision to participate, knowing that they are unlikely to face repercussions or even feel in their own heads that they are doing anything wrong.

The second part of the initial quote is that toughness begets a greater toughness. If a generation were to learn that it is tougher and takes more strength to walk away from the intimidation than to take the easy route and risk tragic consequences, then the association would find itself in a much healthier and safer place.