Opinion: the competitive nature of sport can lead to emotional, verbal and even physical antics on the sideline by managers, mentors and supporters

Managers, coaches, mentors and supporters all play an invaluable role in the GAA and sporting experiences. But occasionally, the competitive nature of sport can lead to emotional, verbal and even physical antics on the sideline. How can the GAA tackle this behaviour on a widespread level?

Davy Fitzgerald inevitably becomes part of the discussion when questionable sideline behaviour is the topic for discussion in GAA circles. The Wexford manager's fiery reputation is infamous with numerous incidents of heated exchanges with match officials and even players blighting his managerial history in recent years. 

The basis for his behaviour is up for deliberation. Former Clare teammate Anthony Daly cites Fitzgerald as claiming that most of his frenzied episodes are calculated and "only two per cent are spontaneous. Fitzgerald's dismissal to the stands in Salthill in May 2019 was followed by second half flurry by the Wexford hurlers, which saw them draw with Galway in the Leinster championship. Could his apparently calculated and often irrational behaviour have a positive effect on the team?

From RTÉ Radio 1's Documentary On One, Clare's 2016 hurling year as experienced through Davy Fitzgerald's eyes

Fitzgerald is not alone in engaging in arguments on the side-line and his antics often overshadow those of his fellow inter-county bosses. Cian O' Neill’s last match as Kildare senior football manager was spent in the stands of St Conleth's Park when he was dispatched from the dugout after an exchange with an official over a yellow card given to one of his players. During the 2018 Walsh Cup final, Brian Cody was sent to the stands following an altercation with a linesman during Wexford and Kilkenny’s clash.

Kilkenny’s 2019 Leinster hurling championship clash with Dublin was marred with controversy when Dublin coach Greg Kennedy intercepted a TJ Reid free, which, if completed, would have created a clear goal-chance for the Cats. As per GAA rules, a coach is only allowed on the pitch during a break in play after a score or wide or when the referee has stopped the game to allow medical attention for a player. Kennedy served a four week ban, which he did not contest. It has become increasingly common to see coaches moving into the field while the ball is in play, or remaining on after the play has restarted following a break. Will such overt breaching of the rules see more coaches evicted from the field of play and sidelines?

There has been a number of recent incidents involving injured players acting as team officials and interfering with players on the field. Kerry’s Peter Crowley accepted an eight-week suspension, arising out of his squirting water in the direction of a Dublin player during play in the drawn All-Ireland football final when he was acting as 'maor uisce' for the Kerry team. Similarly, Darren Hughes served the same suspension when he got involved in an altercation with Fermanagh players during Monaghan’s qualifier victory. GAA match-day protocols do not allow for current players to act as water carriers, but it is regularly ignored. In the case of Crowley and Hughes, disciplinary charges followed after the incidents were either picked up by TV cameras or highlighted in referee match reports.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, Davy Fitzgerald discusses his 2018 book "At All Costs"

Underage sport is an important context for communication, where adults are in a position to praise, instruct, and critique children during play. There has been a number of recent initiatives in GAA that promote positive encouragement from both management and spectators. The GAA Code of Behaviour (Underage) outlines the standards of practice required of those participating in underage games and activities, regardless of what role they may fulfil and in doing so, brings together the collective good practice experiences of Gaelic games. Both Meath and Kerry Coiste na nÓg have introduced initiatives whereby only one designated coach from each team issues instructions to the players and all other coaches and supporters present remain silent, in an effort to eradicate unsporting commentary.

Theatrical behaviour is part and parcel of attending GAA matches, but there is no doubt that unsavoury conduct from management and supporters can lead to unnecessary aggression and violence, which must be extensively curtailed. Moreover, a good example needs to be set for future generations as to what appropriate sideline behaviour is. But does this mean that it is necessary for the GAA to impose silent sidelines across all ages and codes? Whisht up, will ya? 


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ