If the GAA marketing arm are looking for an image that depicts their ‘Give Respect, Get Respect’ initiative, there are few better than this one.

It sends out a message more powerful than any literature they will fire into club email accounts.  And strikes a chord louder than the message from any child protection meeting.

In an era when conversations about mental health are getting more prevalent, role models have a huge part to play in where the association is heading.

When I say role models, I am talking about players, coaches and decision makers.

A search for ‘Give Respect, Get Respect’ on the GAA website throws up the mental health charter.

It is drawn around the word RESPECT.

Respect.  Encouraging.  Supportive.  Positive.  Enabling. Considerate.  Tolerant.

Terminology that looks powerful on paper, but until they are properly implemented, they are just what they are…..words.

Before I go any further, there are loads of positive examples by people across the land, who offer their free time to better the youth of tomorrow.

But, for me, one of the scariest competitions in the calendar is the Féile, which is swinging into action – despite the Baltic conditions – around the county at the minute.

By its very nature and the fact that it is a passport to an All-Ireland series, brings pressure and success hungry parents.

Derry are successful at it.  Kevin Lynch’s have landed a division one hurling gong.

Last year, Magherafelt – boys and girls – were joined by Ballinderry on the winners’ rostrum.

But we can’t shy away from the horror stories of parents and coaches, so overcharged with their own importance, that they lose all dignity.  Not them all, but enough for it to be a concern.

I was at an U14 final last year and a mentor from one of the teams was out of control.  It was embarrassing.  If it was me, I’d hope someone would have a quiet word in my ear and send me packing.

It was a game, where one team were streets ahead of the other and a disagreement broke out along the line.  One mentor emptied a barrage of the worst language you could find.

The response gave me heart.  A player, yes an U14, under his guidance quite calmly encouraged his ‘coach’ to let it go and that his side had a game to win.

Let’s hope his example spreads.  And this young player, scarcely the height of two turf, will move up the chain and become the GAA coach of tomorrow.

In a separate game, as snapped by Mary K in the photo above, St Patrick’s Maghera player Eunan Mulholland is consoled by a member of the opposition as the St Michael Enniskillen fans invade the pitch.

Mulholland was a relentless attacking outlet from defence for the entire game and had a chance to level the game blocked in the dying seconds.

Devastation for him.  Elation for Enniskillen.

I was at the game.  There was no shortage of needle throughout but in the midst of celebration, there was still time for respect.

SLEDGING

I am not saying that we eradicate all competitive thoughts.  We shouldn’t, they are what makes our sport great.

Unfortunately there is far more nonsense going on.  ‘Sledging’ as it is called has spiralled out of control.

There is little harm in a bit of verbals, if it is your thing and is controlled, to try and spice up a marking arrangement.  After all, there is a mental side to the game.

But the problem is, where is the line between testing your opponents’ mettle and downright mental thuggery.

Down the years it has been rife.  There are horror stories of the condition of an ill relative’s name being threw into the mix.

A player’s wife or girlfriend being spoken about and at times, their phone numbers written on the forearm of an aggressor.  All to gain a millimetre on the journey to glory.  Nonsense.

There is no place for this and it’s time for players and coaches to adopt a zero tolerance policy to this.

It should be reported to the captain and manager and eventually the referee.  If it doesn’t stop, then the team should down tools.

Only last week Cahair O’Kane reported of allegations where a Derry player, in their game against Wicklow at Ballinascreen, being targeted for verbal abuse.  Apparently about him living in Northern Ireland and he had his nationality called into question.

Wicklow manager Eamon Scallan said last Sunday it wasn’t brought to his attention, but agreed there was no place for it in sport.  His opposite number John McEvoy said his team ‘respect every opponent’ they meet’.

I remember being at the 1994 Hogan Cup final.  Maghera were getting trounced by Jarlath’s.  Their crop that year were probably the best to ever play in the competition.

As the game went on, their fans began to sing ‘you’ll never beat the Irish’, a favourite of the Irish soccer fans at the time.  They were singing it with increased vigour, with a tri-colour being waved.

I walked across and, politely I may add, asked them why they felt the need to sing such a song directed at fellow Irish people.

“Sure you left us in the famine,” came the response from an animated teenager…only there were a few choice words thrown in.

Utter garbage but this is the type of drivel people feel is acceptable.

Two time Hogan Cup winner and Derry All-Ireland minor medallist Gregory Simpson was in Dublin at the weekend watching his son Dara – himself a Celtic Challenge winner - play hurling for St Patrick’s Maghera.

A tweet he posted tells you all you need to know for the lack of respect Ulster people are subjected to.

Behind him, he could hear a phone conversation.  The person at the game – presumable supporting St Raphael’s Loughrea - must have been asked who his side were playing.

“Some crowd from da nort,” came the reply.

Once the phone conversation ended, Simpson ‘politely’ told him that St Patrick’s Maghera held seven All-Ireland senior titles.

Respect costs nothing, but the lack of it and the general bad manners that is present in the dark corners of our games is costing the GAA its reputation.

Take one last look at the photo.  It should be shown to every player, coach and leader in the land.

This age group are our future leaders and the shoots of hope.

Pic: Mary K Burke

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