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Kevin McStay: GAA needs to incorporate a specific eye-gouging rule

A 12-month suspension with a repeat infraction carrying a life ban would put an end to this horrible act

Blessed are the peacemakers. That was the ultimate message from the GAA disciplinary hearing after the Armagh-Galway fracas that was, it seems, the talk of Leinster House all week.

In the end the disciplinary process went the way I expected. The CCCC took their time and got things right. The one-match ban for both Seán Kelly and Aidan Nugent was technically correct, as they ‘joined a melee’ but imposed fully in the knowledge that the committee’s conclusion would be turned over and the suspensions lifted.

Within a few short hours, Kelly was free to play his All-Ireland semi-final and justice was seen to be done. I noticed Armagh have decided to waive their right to appeal but surely that is not fair on a player who will miss a game down the road when he, too, should have had the ban overturned.

But most of the attention was on the punishment for the infamous eye-gouging incident. Firstly, I believe there is a position we must all take when an incident like this occurs. Of course there can be no witch hunt but try telling that to the keyboard warriors who specialise in that very hunt and chase.


Obviously, the CCCC pored over as much tape as they could get their hands on and for a change there was plenty of evidence. The infraction was obvious, and the perpetrator was too.

In these cases, we must be mature enough to separate the player from the act, though this proves difficult for so many. The eye-gouge is a horrible act, but the Armagh lad is not a horrible person. He made a dreadful mistake in thinking this might be acceptable in some form and that he would get away with it.

Eye-gouging is a most unnatural act and obviously has potentially, horrendous consequences. I am aware of a club player in Dublin who required surgery because of an accidental finger in the eye. He now lives his life with sight impairment. That is the seriousness of the act right there. Another millimetre by the Armagh player, a sharp nail on his finger and Damien Comer might have suffered an injury that could not be repaired or reversed.

The furore is over for now. We move on. Until the next one. When, in the absence of any interim action, we rinse and repeat

But if you think Tiernan Kelly’s is an isolated incident, you would be wrong. Just google eye-gouging in the GAA and click on the video archive. In a few seconds you will be shown players from prominent counties engaged in alleged eye-gouging, players who contended for ‘Player of The Year’ awards back in their pomp. The argument that it is exceedingly difficult to prove the infraction is a convincing one; in the absence of cameras and still photography at NFL games, it becomes all but impossible to pin down.

The unsatisfactory aspect of the CCCC’s week’s work is of course the time-nature of the penalty applied. While Tiernan Kelly will miss most, if not all, of his club action, his 2023 intercounty games are not affected. This, I feel, is wrong and does not send out the correct message to others who might consider following his shocking example.

Going forward, I see no reason why the GAA does not incorporate a specific eye-gouging rule, which attracts a minimum of 12 months as suspension and a repeat infraction carrying a life ban from the playing of Gaelic games. That would put an end to this horrible act.

Indeed, the rule book as stated last week, is in urgent need of overhaul. I do not have the space in this column to list the many anomalies and gaps and sheer daftness contained in The Official Guide (Part 2): The Playing Rules of Gaelic Football. The furore is over for now. We move on. Until the next one. When, in the absence of any interim action, we rinse and repeat.

Armagh-Galway was an amazing game of football. However, it provided a finale that many supporters immediately decried. Most pundits – and indeed winning manager Pádraic Joyce – also rushed to state that the penalty shoot-out was not a satisfactory mechanism to produce a team for the semi-final phase. And I am with them on that … why not have a replay the following week? And if the eventual winner of that replay lost out on a week’s prep for the semi-final … well, that is the ‘penalty’ for not winning your game in regular-time and/or extra-time.

But most pundits erred when stating that penalty shots were a lottery. I will speculate most of them never took a penalty when it really mattered. The art of good penalty taking is based almost exclusively on the ability to have excellent ball-striking of a motionless ball. There are other facets, of course, but that is the principle one. Accuracy and power and the ability to place a ball exactly where you want to are key. But you must also factor in pressure (a significant parameter), location, context of the game (first minute v last minute, extra-time v penalty shoot-out all leads to a rise on the barometer).

Like everything in life, if you want to be good at something, you need to practice it and, in that respect, I noted Galway’s commitment to this skill during their challenge circuit pre championship.

“The more I practice, the luckier I get” is a quote Gary Player/Arnold Palmer and a few others claimed to have coined, but it captures the essence of penalty taking. I prefer the idea that, following many nights taking penalties after the lads have togged in, eventually preparation will meet opportunity.

I took many penalties for my club and Mayo over the years but as ever, things were vastly different way back then. The spot kick was located on the 13-metre line, two metres further out than today and, believe me, the addition of those 200 centimetres made a massive difference. Normally a small beach could be located around the general ‘spot-kick’ area, a bucket and spade a handy companion. Throw in the regular sight of the goalkeeper advancing within 10 metres of your shot before you even placed it and you get the picture. The kicker usually had an opposition defender match him stride for stride as he approached the kick!

With much on the line in the 1984 Connacht Final, we were awarded a penalty midway through the second half. Young and brash and with flaky-enough confidence, I collected the ball and walked nervously to the line. I had been waiting for such a moment all my life, really, and had practised it endlessly. The Galway goalkeeper walked out to tell me he knew exactly where I was putting it and I cheekily informed him he would know where to take it out from, then!

He guessed right but practice had allowed me to place it within a few inches of the post and despite the ball bouncing once or twice before it crossed the line, it hit the net and my relief was complete. Alas, we still found a way to lose yet another important game against Galway, but any recollection of that moment suggests to me immediately the pressure involved with the kick. You only have technique and temperament to fall back on in such cases.

The Galway execution against Armagh in that epic game was, of course, flawless. And why wouldn’t it be? They have some smashing ball strikers in their ranks. I was delighted to see young Rob Finnerty tickle the onion bag. His father before him was a master of the craft using the right-hand post as his guide and usually shaving an inside coat of paint in the process. The other penalty kicks were superb, and Galway did not require their full quota to reach a winning number. No lottery at all. Just a matter of skill and nerve.

Galway were the big winners to emerge from the All-Ireland series in more ways than one. Only Pádraic Joyce’s men were truly tested, and they came through, eventually, an Armagh challenge that will stand them in good stead for not only this season but those ahead also.

The Derry versus Galway game looks just like the quarter final in that it is almost impossible to call and so very difficult to split the teams. Both emerged with morale-enhancing wins. But there are still many questions they must answer.

The emotions felt at the end of a semi-final will be diametrically opposite. I have lived through both, and the comparisons are shockingly different

Goalkeeping problems exist for sure on both sides; the excellence of the Derry defence will be needed to curtail an exciting Galway attack. It is completely 50/50 in the midfield, and I am expecting Galway’s backs to come to grips with the opposition. It looks very like Shane McGuigan plus a handful of busy worker bees, and it is hard to see where a winning points total might come from. Which means Derry might well, once again, need green flags to achieve their dream. I am sticking with Galway, as I did when they faced Armagh, but I am very much aware that a breaking ball, a bounce, an official’s error, something small but critical, might well swing the game one way or the other.

Sunday’s game has all the bells and whistles. The tradition, the history, and a tipping point moment in their respective journeys. Dublin are on course to reset the dial and take back the number one position they owned for the past decade. Up to the Cork game, they had done all that was asked of them. But watching that game, it was obvious they badly missed the input of their sectoral leaders … James McCarthy in the middle third and Con O’Callaghan up front. If both players fail to make Sunday, then I must give Kerry a confident nod.

If both stars do make the starting 15, healthy and ready for road, the needle swings back. Kerry have major questions to answer about their defence (in particular, their goalkeeper and full-back line) and until David Moran rolled back the years with a terrific performance against Mayo, there were problems in the midfield also.

Do I need to remind Kerry folk that with 15 minutes left on the clock, Mayo, despite shooting morale-draining wides (16 at that stage, 18 in total for the full game) were just two points in arrears and looking like contenders? Kerry are out of time in the patience-stakes and their conveyor belt of stars will be required to deliver this weekend. I believe they will show much improvement from their quarter-final and with Dublin struggling in the Emergency Room will win by a few points.

We have arrived then at speed, in a blur, to one of the most exciting weekends in the GAA calendar. The emotions felt at the end of a semi-final will be diametrically opposite. I have lived through both, and the comparisons are shockingly different. Joy at making the greatest day in Irish sporting life as against despair at losing out on the final leg … a taxi ride short of Croke Park and all the pain that goes with that.

This weekend there is one simple requirement for all four teams: as the late great US college basketball coach Jimmy Valvano once said, we must “survive and advance”.

The problem – and beauty- of the weekend is that only two of the four remaining teams can do so.