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Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: -1°C
Cathal Noonan/INPHO 'One of my uncles harbours a deep-seated personal hatred for every single match official on the island of Ireland.'
# WHAT TIL YERE U14
'As far as I’m concerned, spite and personal animus are the lifeblood of the GAA'
Name-calling and animosity is a big part of Eoin Butler’s championship summer.

LAST WEEKEND, RTÉ’s new sport head Declan McBennett informed Sunday Game pundits that personal attacks on players or manager will no longer be tolerated.

“The message that has gone out to all analysts is that there are no personal attacks allowed,” he told Gaelic Life.

“They can be critical of formats, structures, tactics and systems. But they cannot be critical in a personalised way of individuals. I have no time for, nor will I tolerate, personal attacks on individuals.”

Of course, a fecker like him would say that.

Record scratch… Freeze frame…. Stop the tape. That was a joke. Before the lawyers start getting involved, I don’t know Declan McBennett. I have no doubt he’s a wonderful human being. That was 100% meant in jest.

But I do want to speak out in defence of unwarranted personal abuse. Sure, it’s a bad thing. Sure, it’s hurtful and indefensible. And, no doubt, I am completely wrong about this.

But as far as I’m concerned, spite and personal animus are the lifeblood of the GAA. Your team are a shower of cheating bastards. Mine are all useless gobshites. The vendors who charge me €6 for a cup of tea and a Twix at half time?  Thieving so-and-so’s, the lot of them.

(Fortunately, I have no direct personal experience of receiving dog’s abuse myself. This column is published each week to universal acclaim in the comment section, or so I have been assured.)

I was indoctrinated into this philosophy from a young age. I remember one of our underage Gaelic football coaches whose entire management strategy was to come in at half time and tell us he’d just walked past the opposition dressing room and heard their players laughing at us.

Even at eight or nine-years-old, this did not really chime with my own lived experience. Half-time dressing rooms tended to be quiet places where players drank water and caught their breath. And our manager would often make this dubious claim even when we were winning by five or six points.

But he told us and we believed him: Laughter. Gales and gales of mocking laughter. And we went out determined to teach those arrogant pricks a lesson in the second half.

Oh, and by the way, I’m not the worst in the world. I was only raised to hate the opposition players, managers and backroom staff. One of my uncles harbours a deep-seated personal hatred for every single match official on the island of Ireland. Every time Mayo have an important championship game coming up, we have some variation on this conversation:

Him: Did you hear who they put in charge?

Me: No. Who?

Him: [insert completely anonymous match official’s name]

Me: Christ, I don’t believe it… Er, remind me again why we hate him?

Him: Do you not remember? He booked Kevin McLaughlin in a challenge match in 2011!

Me: Oh God, yeah. That bollocks has always had it in for us.

The same day that article was published about RTE clamping down on personal criticism, I happened to catch the Dublin v Tyrone in a bar with the sound turned down. I was watching the game in a bar, because the GAA are a shower of greedy, money-grabbing bastards who sold the TV rights to Sky.

And the sound was turned down because the manager claimed this wasn’t a bar, it was a restaurant, and his customers were paying good money to enjoy their meals in peace. (I know… what was this guy’s problem?)

One thing about watching a game in a restaurant with the sound turned down is it really exposes the limitations of my knowledge about the game. A Dub-supporting waiter kept swinging by and asking me for updates on the match. I gotta admit, I struggled. Dublin just got a point. Who scored it? “Barney Rock’s son? Kicked the winner against Mayo in the final last year. Oh God… what the hell’s his name? Frank Rock? Stan Rock?”

A few minutes later, Tyrone pulled a point back. Who scored? “It was… yer man who took a dive against Laois. Remember a few years ago? Defender. Not the film star. He doesn’t seem to be playing today. The other guy with the fancy hair. John McTiernan? Tiernan McJohn?”

One statistic that did come to my attention is that Stephen Cluxton finally equalled John O’Leary’s appearance record for Dublin on Saturday. This is a little conflicting for me. Until very recently, one of my most abiding certainties in Gaelic football was that Stephen Cluxton is a humourless hoor.

I had no solid grounds on which to believe this. But they’ve beaten Mayo in a bunch of All-Irelands and I should be entitled to hate him if I want to, right?

I even met Cluxton once. I was asked to speak to Transition Year students at a school in Glasnevin. In the staffroom, beforehand, I was introduced to the various teachers. One of them was called Stephen. I had to use Wikipedia on my phone to be sure that it was Cluxton. I always thought the Dublin keeper was a Garda, for some reason. But no, he was a teacher at this school.

He didn’t actually do anything remotely objectionable. He said hello, gave me a friendly smile, then he went back to eating his apple. But that was all the proof I needed. What an arrogant asshole, I decided.

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A couple of weeks ago, I ran into an old friend. My friend told me that, during the off-season, he ran into the Dublin football squad out celebrating a squad member’s birthday. My friend is not some corporate high flyer these had to be nice to. He’s a regular Joe they would have been perfectly within their rights to dismiss. It was a private party. My friend is a Mayo man, but he lives in Dublin and his son is a diehard Dublin supporter. (I know, bring back compulsory military service. But, come on, whaddiya gonna do?)

He approached Cluxton and asked him if he’d mind signing an autograph for his son. Cluxton didn’t just sign the autograph, he went around the room and got all of the other players to do likewise. “Total gentleman,” my friend told me. “Totally down to earth and sound and really, really good craic. To be honest, all of them were.”

This information contradicted every baseless assumption I’d ever clung to about the Dublin squad. So I decided it couldn’t possibly be true. But then my friend produced his phone and showed me the photographs and the nice messages they’d written his for his son. I had to accept it was true and I was a little pissed off, if I’m to be perfectly honest.

All of them were sound, I asked? “Not all of them,” he replied. He told me one high profile member of the Dubs squad had been a bit arrogant, a bit dismissive, a bit of a tosser. (And no, it wasn’t Diarmuid Connolly.) He may just have been throwing me a bone out of charity at that point. But I grasped that bone with both hands.

“I knew it,” I gasped, thrilled. “That fella is a notorious bollocks. Didn’t I always say so?”

 

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