“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. Oh yeah?
Well, let me tell you that as a child growing up, as a young man and as a tax serf in later life, words often left me completely bereft. Ireland in recent years has been convulsed with scandal after scandal. Clerical abuse, unmarried mothers hidden away, their children taken from them as their male counterparts continued as pillars of society. One of the reasons being people didn’t shout ‘Stop’.
Tipperary have now said ‘Stop’ by calling out Tyrone U21s for their verbal antics in the recent All-Ireland final. In the broad light of day, in full view, bullies shy back.
All those historical abuses occurred not through ignorance, not through a lack of knowing right from wrong, if it’s done furtively it’s definitely wrong. No, those abuses occurred because of silence, secrecy and fear. Silence being the worst.
People knew of those abuses, be they colleagues of the abusers, be they acquaintances and family of the abusers. Yet they chose to remain silent and not to out the perpetrators. In time this morphed into the way Irish life worked. Then the seeds of free education 1967 kicked in and a few decades later people felt confident enough to articulate this sordid past.
Joe Brolly recently called out a bullying episode from his own youth where a priest (a Dean, to be precise) levelled him over a trivial matter. “Look child what you made me do,” said the Dean to the 13-year child Brolly as Joe spat out the blood.
I felt a huge relief from reading that piece. I too took a full fist in the mouth in Muiredach’s from a dean. Why? He caught me reading a Mass Missal during study. Give me Football Monthly and I’d eat it back then but my Mother gave me the mass book. I didn’t want it but was very interested in the beautiful coloured pictures. “You’re a bit of a go boy” my assailant said to me as he walked off wiping the blood off his knuckles.
Joe Brolly is a man that infuriates. A once confirmed Mayophile, Joe sang our praises until he got fed up of us shooting ourselves in the foot. Joe Brolly is also a very courageous man. Donating a vital organ to a non-family member took guts, if you pardon the pun.
Calling out the issue of player unhappiness after the recent Clare contretemps took courage but Joe did it. And yet Joe and The Sunday Game team contributed to the demonisation of Ciaran McDonald and Conor Mortimer referring to them as Swedish milkmaids, remarking on their boots, dyed hair and plaits. That selective sartorial denigration made Mort and Mac prey to open season sledging.
The reason for this article is simple. Tipperary made a key but vital decision in refusing entry to their dressing room by the Tyrone manager after the U21 final. The level of verbal abuse they’d encountered out on the field must have been horrific because the last thing any county or person wants to be seen as is being a cry baby or whinger.
We in Mayo have swallowed hard in that arena, from John Finn’s broken jaw back in 1985 to what occurred during the 2013 minor final. I myself suffered from verbal innuendo in my work place over a two-year period. It tore my soul to shreds. Eventually it was dealt with but never forgotten. Strangely, the place I got solace and escape from the abuse was on the pitch and in sport.
We play and watch sport to escape the humdrum and wear and tear of daily life. We essentially use it as escapism and to dream. Not for a second should it become a searing white-lined, boxed-in version of hell.
I was told of what one Mayo minor was subjected to in the 2013 minor final against Tyrone. I was shocked, I was sickened to the core. The boy himself must have been made of steel.
But it is the responsibility of the county mentors and officials to out the perpetrators of this verbal abuse. Sadly from the treatment meted to whistle blowers and the understandable fear of being seen as a shit-stirrer, people don’t want to get involved. The bully wins and grins.
This carry-on is endemic in Irish life. We put up with horrible people because we either fear them, fear their power or worse, fear the system because it’s unable to deal with them. Mr Callinan, the former Garda Commissioner, on being grilled by a Dail committee over whistle blowers, stated that the Irish people didn’t take kindly to “informers”.
His comment was risible bearing in mind that the entire police system here would collapse if there weren’t informers. The message I took from that was that we shouldn’t speak out because other people mightn’t like it. Rubbish.
Sport to me is the epitome of the Corinthian. Naïve, I know, but on a given day heroes are created for life, great deeds fashioned and life lessons imbued. The stench of the Deep Heat, sweaty jersey, the muck on the boots, that mad elation you have in the journey home, that dull thud that a good day will never come again after a hammering or robbery.
Those are the emotions that define us as a people. How dare any blackguard on the pitch sully and stain our dreams, our hopes, our players, our people, our county!
Stamping out sledging isn’t an issue to be long-fingered. The Sunday Game and its crew could call it out, even perhaps acknowledge the part that it might have played in singling out players like I described above.
Maybe a manager will tell his players that if the barb is personal, familial and close, then he expects the would-be victim to extract revenge. The manager can then tell Marty and the nation why Bloggs got sent off. Now that would see who had cojones of steel and who was a brazen coward hiding behind sly-mouthing on the safe confines of the green field. Imagine what your neighbours think of you when the airwaves broadcast it for us all to hear?
A lady in Glasgow who lost a friend in a fracas over sledging and tired of the verbal abuse between Celtic and Rangers fans set up a foundation called Nil By Mouth. I couldn’t agree more with those very words.
Henry Kenny, once assailed on the field, looked up at his attacker and said: “Why did you do that to me?” Silence followed. Kenny added: “ I wouldn’t have done it to you”. His opponent, so shamed, never caught another ball for that match. Kenny showed up the aggressor.
A contributor to this site said that they would rather wait 64 more years than to stoop so low to win Sam if it entailed verbal abuse and sledging. I agree 100%.