Opinion: the traditional instinct is to let the goal speak for itself and leave elaborate celebrations to other sports

Scoring a goal is one of the most and exciting parts of playing GAA, no matter what the competition or stage. Goals can be scored in many ways: an impressive display of skills that deceives the goalkeeper, a premeditated play practiced several times in training or a botched hit that fortuitously ends up in the back of the net.

But celebrating a goal is less of a phenomenon in GAA than a goal in soccer or a touchdown in American football. Celebrations represent an increase in intensity in the players' shows of emotion after scoring, and also in perceptions of the importance of the goal. It is rare to see goal scorers in GAA celebrate with their teammates in the immediate aftermath of a goal or run towards the crowd to create their own unique celebration à la Robbie Keane's cartwheel or Peter Crouch's robot dance.

The traditional instinct in GAA is to let the goal speak for itself and for players to resume their position while internally revelling in the opposition's unease. Are goal celebrations avoided in GAA in order to obey the Irish commandment of 'Thou Shalt Not Blow Your Own Trumpet’? Or is it simply to avoid tempting fate because goals are not always followed by victory?

From RTÉ Doc On One, Seamus Darby and the Goal That Made Champions

That said, Gaelic games has produced some memorable goal celebrations. Seamus Darby dancing a jig, Joe Brolly blowing kisses and an ecstatic Galway supporter jumping on Noel Lane's back are celebratory moments that are expressive of a player’s personality and excitement for the game.

However, goal celebrations can also be interpreted as unsporting gestures, which is perhaps a reasonable motive for their restrained presence on the GAA field. In 2012, when Waterford beat Clare in a Munster hurling championship semi-final, Waterford forward John Mullane allowed his emotions get the better of him as he slid on his knees in front of the Clare dugout and backroom team. Mullane's actions were prompted by hearsay in the build-up to the game and he later expressed his regret for this 'provocative’ celebration. 

There is no doubt that showboating and visible individual goal celebrations have become less frequent in recent years. Many goalkeepers who take penalties have no choice but to ignore celebrating and sprint back down to guard their own line for fear of the ball reaching the line before them in a rapid reprisal. This attitude of getting back to business demonstrates confidence and a visible determination to not become distracted by the excited crowds. In the 2005 football quarter-final between Tyrone and Dublin, Owen Mulligan scored a goal into Hill 16, looked at the dazed sea of supporters in blue and calmly walked off showing immense control of his emotions.

From GAANow, a rewind of Owen Mulligan's best moments playing for Tyrone

Why has celebrating goals become more low-key and reserved, regardless of how significant the goal itself is perceived? Perhaps it is a consequence of GAA games transitioning from a spectacle of pure entertainment to a more serious and increasingly professional vocation. Perhaps it is also to do with television cameras, focusing on the animated supporters in the crowd instead of the goal scorer to capture the excitement. With little or no crowds to heighten the atmosphere and thrill of live matches for the foreseeable future, celebrating goals may become even more subdued without the organic joy of supporters in the stands and terraces.

Is there anything more embarrassing as a spectator than celebrating a goal only to realise seconds later that it actually hit the side netting? Maybe players hold that constant fear as well. A raised green flag does not necessarily mean that a goal stands. All it takes is a referee marching over towards the umpires to overrule a decision and make all sorts of dreams and scorelines shatter.

Whether players make a conscious decision to celebrate scoring a goal or not, it is unsporting to celebrate at the expense of the opposition or their supporters. The noblest of options is to keep the head down, retreat to your position and allow your play to do the talking. One must be modest while being excellent.


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