This article on pundit reaction to GAA brawls was originally published in the aftermath of June's All-Ireland quarter-final between Galway and Armagh.
In the aftermath of yesterday's game between Galway and Armagh, we should be talking about the incredible level of football that was on show. It was a contest between two excellent teams who produced no shortage of brilliant moments over the 90-plus minutes of action.
As we all know, the post-match conversation has been dominated by a different subject.
The brawl that unfolded after the end of normal time in that fixture are sure to dominate the headlines and radio waves in the coming days. The eye-gouging incident was an absolute disgrace and has rightly been widely condemned.
In saying that, the rest of the scenes that unfolded at Croke Park yesterday really should not have come as a surprise. The truth of the matter is that such melees are far too common of an occurrence at the top level of GAA.
We see time and time again in top inter-county matches both sets of players become involved in needless mass altercations, something that is often seen as a part parcel of the sport. A broader discussion around the issue only really occurs when we have such an unsavoury incident as we had yesterday, but the problem itself is deeply ingrained in the GAA.
There are few other sports where we see this happen on such a regular basis. It can happen in soccer, rugby, and other sports, but this often amounts to a bit of jersey holding and threatening stares. Unfortunately, it can often lead to thrown punches or dangerous grappling on the ground in Gaelic football.
People condemn these incidents as a 'disgrace' when a line is crossed, but perhaps the location of that line is what needs to be changed.
Take last night's edition of The Sunday Game as an example.
The panel of Sean Cavanagh, Colm Cooper, and Ciaran Whelan were discussing what had happened in the Galway-Armagh game, where they all rightly said the eye-gouging was a disgrace. The issue was that Cavanagh and Whelan also defended much of what else occurred surrounding that incident.
Whelan essentially blamed the whole thing on the fact that both teams were entering dressing rooms on the same side of the stadium, despite the fact that this happens in all other sports usually without incident. Cavanagh had a similar feeling on that matter, claiming that a bit of a mass brawl between players is no harm until those on the sideline get involved.
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) June 26, 2022
Sometimes this is okay when it is the playing members that are involved, it's a show of raw emotion in the white heat of battle. Then you get men involved that shouldn't be there.
The two teams were going into the one changing room. I have no idea why that was the case and it should be looked at. Then it gets ugly, when you have guys there who aren't involved in the game itself and have nothing to lose...
When it gets to that level where guys are getting involved in this sort of way, that should never be seen in any sporting field or arena anywhere in the world...
It's okay up to a certain point, but after that point it's a disgrace...
I think there should be harsher penalties on guys who shouldn't be there.
There is a bit of mutual respect sometimes between the players, a bit of pushing and shoving. It's kind of acceptable.
Therein lies the issue that the GAA need to tackle.
If these brawls are seen as acceptable by those who participate in them, why would they even think twice about not taking part? It is a rotten attitude within Gaelic games, one that does absolutely no favour for the sport as a spectacle. Everyone loves to see passion, but that should not lead to incidents such as the one we saw yesterday.
The way the GAA deal with them certainly doesn't help. While referee David Coldrick was placed in a very difficult position yesterday, his solution to the issue seemed to be to send off two of the only players that weren't actually heavily involved.
They will no doubt get off on appeal, as they probably should it must be said. As for the main contributors to the fight, it will be interesting to see what happens there.
In fairness to Colm Cooper, he rightly claimed that the GAA need to be far harsher in clamping down on melees in the sport.
The #SundayGame questioned the decision to send off Armagh's Aidan Nugent and Galway's Seán Kelly while Colm Cooper asked whether the GAA's penalties are severe enough. #RTEGAA pic.twitter.com/KFVy5D7llo
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) June 26, 2022
These melees tend to happen now and again, are the GAA's penalties sever enough? Are they dealing with the in an appropriate way?
Are they doing enough? We see it in club games, we see it in inter-county games? There should be harsher penalties, more severe.
The eye-gouging is a disgrace.
This is a problem that is far too common on the GAA, one that does not seem to be getting any better. It is little wonder that is the case that the attitude from many at the top of the sport is that mass brawls and part and parcel of the game.
At a time when we have well-known pundits pontificating about a made up problem of children being drive away from Gaelic games due to a shortened inter-county calendar, maybe we should be worried about the issue of parents keeping kids away from a sport that frequently features dangerous brawls on the sideline.
That is a more difficult, but much more important conversation.