Paul Healy’s Week

Wednesday/Thursday

It happened in Ballyforan – casting a very bright spotlight on our county – but it could have happened anywhere. It is the storm that has been brewing.

News of the plight of referee Kevin Naughton spread quickly, as is the norm these days. By early Thursday, stark but incomplete footage of the ‘incident’ was circulating on social media. The ‘story’ went viral, and quickly became a national talking point. Would it be just another story – fuelled by media comment – that got ‘traction’ for a few days, or would the assault on a referee on a late summer’s evening in Ballyforan actually be a watershed moment in the belated bid to properly protect match officials? Only time will tell.

It was certainly shocking. There is something chilling about the image of a referee motionless on a pitch, stunned players looking on. The precise circumstances of what happened are under investigation (by the GAA). St. Aidan’s GAA Club – who were in action against St. Dominic’s on the night – immediately issued a statement, pledging full cooperation.

Abuse of referees is unacceptable and should be met with zero tolerance. The GAA could take a leaf from rugby’s book on this front. In an ideal world, no referee should be abused – verbally or physically. Creating such an environment is the challenge. As I stated on Shannonside Radio on Friday morning, for too long the GAA has indulged violence, turned a blind eye. Obviously not in all cases, obviously to different degrees…but that has been the culture. The odd brawl is often categorised as our old friend ‘handbags’ – while nasty, sly assaults by players are frequently played down. The perpetrator is ‘not that type of player’. ‘This is completely out of character’. ‘He would never wish to hurt anybody’.

I fully support condemnation of the incident in Ballyforan. Clearly, steps have to be taken to ensure that referees feel safe, and are safe. And clearly firm action has to be taken against anyone guilty of abuse of officials.

I don’t mind going out on a limb and stating that some of the commentary in the extensive media coverage verged on pontificating/attention seeking. Certainly there was some (inevitable) misinformation and toxic-type comment on social media. But nothing changes the fact that this was a storm that has been brewing. GAA officials need to be protected and abuse needs to be stamped out. It’s our game, and it’s our children who are playing it, who will drive its future course. That future cannot include images of referees lying motionless on the ground, threats to their welfare, ambulance trips to hospital. The local referees who withdrew their services last weekend deserve the empathy and support of the public.

 

Friday

There was a great turnout in Down The Hatch tonight for the launch of Gerry Flanagan’s book ‘Playing against the Wind’.

Present were a number of Gerry’s former playing colleagues and school friends, as well as family members and other guests.

Gerry, a native of Ballybride, Roscommon, was an accomplished dual GAA player who won nine county titles with Roscommon Gaels (six in hurling, three in football). He was also a member of the Roscommon team that won the All-Ireland junior hurling title in 1965. When he moved to County Meath (where he still lives) Gerry continued his playing career and also went on to serve as an administrator and coach.

A retired member of An Garda Siochana, Gerry’s motivation in writing the book was to raise funds for the Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre. Therefore, if you buy the book you are supporting a great cause; you are also getting your hands on a fine publication which brings readers on a journey into the past, Gerry’s reflections being supported by some excellent photographs of GAA teams.

The book has some great content on St. Coman’s GAA Club, Roscommon Gaels, Roscommon and Meath GAA, as well as chapters on Gerry’s school days in Fuerty NS and Roscommon CBS, farming practices of the past, growing up in Roscommon, etc. It is, in effect, a social history of the era.

The launch was performed by GAA historian Tony Conboy, with Gerry Flanagan and Canon Liam Devine also making speeches. I had the pleasure of being master of ceremonies.

‘Playing against the Wind’ is now on sale in selected outlets locally, including ETL, Roscommon; Newsround, Roscommon, Castlecoote Stores, and the Roscommon People office. Copies can also be ordered via buythebook.ie. All proceeds go towards cancer care.

 

Saturday

It was good to see Castlerea’s Lisa O’Rourke featuring prominently in today’s Irish Times. Our world boxing champion was the subject of a feature interview with well-known journalist Johnny Watterson, in which Lisa talks with trademark humility about her boxing career to date, playing Gaelic football with Roscommon, and her ambition to compete in the 2024 Olympics.

Meanwhile, another Roscommon woman features in the Times’ business section, with Michelle Daly (nee Naughton) of P&G Cards profiled as one of four finalists in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year. Michelle is Managing Director of the company, which is based just outside Athleague. We wish Michelle every success in the Entrepreneur of the Year final.

 

Sunday

It was a weekend of VAR-related controversy in the Premier League. West Ham were certainly denied a good goal against Chelsea (the difference between drawing and losing). There were other very dubious/contentious decisions. A number of managers were beside themselves with frustration/anger. Even Alan Shearer (on Match of the Day) almost became animated. As for Twitter, it almost exploded, but last time I checked it was still there.

 

Monday/Tuesday

While doing some work at home on Monday, I turned on Sky News shortly after 12 noon. The results of the ‘I want to be next UK Prime Minister’ contest were due.

“We’re in for an unsettled week ahead” the lady on Sky News said. It turns out she was giving a quick weather update, and not in fact casting comment on the beginning of the Liz Truss premiership.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, outgoing PM Boris Johnson made his farewell speech, during which he compared himself to a “booster rocket” – before adding that he will now be “gently re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down invisibly in some remote and obscure corner of the Pacific”. He proceeded to reference both the family dog and Larry, the famous Downing Street cat, and then compare himself to Cincinnatus (no, me either), a Roman statesman and military leader.

There are unconfirmed reports that people queuing at food banks, elderly folk on hospital waiting lists, and hard-pressed citizens blankly staring at their energy bills, all spontaneously formed standing ovations as they wiped tears away and savoured the sensitivity and timeless wit of their lost leader.