The Wexford GAA chairman, Diarmuid Devereux, criticised the abuse directed at his county’s hurlers both online and from the stands in the Irish Independent last week.
This follows the county’s hurlers facing a demoralising defeat at the hands of Dublin last Saturday evening in Croke Park.
Unfortunately, this is becoming a more common feature of reactions to games as social media allows supposed ‘supporters’ to vent their frustration at players, management, county board officials etc.
We saw it very clearly last year following Westmeath’s defeat of Meath and the abuse directed at Meath goalkeeper Paddy O’Rourke. It was also horribly evident following the U-21 football final this year when people felt obliged to offer their opinion on the Cork goalkeeper.
Criticism is to be expected when you play any sport as people are invested in the performance and the results, especially in GAA, but this does not give people the right to verbally abuse players.
Players are fully aware of what it means to represent their county, their people, and their jersey. It’s why they play the game. It’s why they train for months, knowing that it could all end in tears. It’s why you’ll see them on their knees following the final whistle when they’ve come up just short. It’s why you’ll see them on the pitch following games signing jerseys, taking photographs, talking to supporters.
This verbal abuse is a part of the game that is completely at odds with all of the above and is especially grating when these ‘supporters’ are first in the queue to pat these lads on the back following a win. They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and from all the matches that I’ve attended this year, this saying could not be more true. People out for the first time all year, telling all of us eejits who have sat in the rain, the wind and the cold since January that, ‘sure that lad shouldn’t be on the field at all’, or ‘that chap was never any good’.
This level of criticism can be extremely irritating for genuine supporters as we all get tarred with the same brush as stupid remarks texted into a local radio station or written on forums or social media sites are suddenly seen as the general consensus.
Genuine supporters are entitled to be disappointed and frustrated. Of course they are. It’s not easy travelling the country for half the year going to games. Obviously it would be easier to do if your team was winning all around them, but GAA is not easy. Nothing worthwhile is.
Wexford people left Croke Park last week bitterly disappointed but a core of these supporters knew as they drove away and left Headquarters in their wake that they would be there the next day, wherever ‘there’ happens to be. Just like the Meath supporters did last year and just like all real GAA people do over and over again.
Eamonn Kelly, the Offaly hurling manager, was at the centre of a storm following his team’s string of poor performances. Abusive phone calls were the order of the day for a man who is dedicating his time to Offaly hurling. Doesn’t really make sense, does it?
However, we need to be careful also where we point the finger for some of these nasty comments. Not all trolls are online. Some have alleged legitimacy and avenues to publicise their nasty reactions and thoughts on a game through various media outlets.
In fact, it was questioned in local media whether it was worth the money to see one of the Wexford teams play, following the result. Regardless of how disappointed you are following a game, telling people that you feel short-changed is not the way to go.
If you feel that you wasted your money supporting your county, then you’re in the wrong business. This wasn’t a night out at a concert, where you were disappointed that you’re favourite songs weren’t sang or a meal in a restaurant where you felt that the vegetables were too crunchy/not crunchy enough.
This was a game in the melting pot until the final whistle and whatever your views on the quality of the football on show, it was in that situation due to hard work, determination and a will to win.
We talk a lot about structures, venues, too long of breaks between games, too many games in a short space of time as issues that risk disrespecting our players, however, supporters and local media have a role to play in too.
I’m not saying that we need to use kid gloves when talking about games or assessing performances but the language that we use should be chosen keeping in mind the fact that these are young men, giving everything to wear our jersey. No below par performance should negate that fact.
In the GAA, we are very protective of our referees and any criticism is dealt with severely, yet we sit back and listen to or read influential people slamming players and managers, without a word. Criticism is to be expected within sport, but only if it constructive. Groundless, reactionary, faceless, nameless abuse of our players and our managers should not be tolerated.
As supporters we have a decision to make. We can be the ‘eejit’ who supports his/her county on the good days, the bad days and the ugly days and respects the effort that’s being put in by all involved or we can be the hurler on the ditch, who if wasn’t for ‘this’ or ‘that’ or ‘the other’ would be playing centre forward/full back/midfield/managing the team (possibly all at once).
Be the ‘eejit’. It’s much more fun and you don’t look half as stupid.