From behind the goal
This month marks the 15th anniversary of the passing of local soccer legend and my childhood hero Timmy “Coxy” Halley. For me and indeed many others, Coxy was Clonmel’s finest ever footballer. His relationship with a football was different from that achieved by anyone else. In my opinion other players concentrated on mastering the ball and using it as a tool. For him it often seemed to be a living ally, dancing between and around his sprinting feet as if it chose to be there. It appeared to this child’s eye, to be scarcely anything he could not do with a ball. Getting to know him, albeit a little was one of my most cherished privileges in life.
This is my opinion, one that is shared by many but others whilst pointing to his undoubted brilliance would mention other great players of that era. Buddy Anderson, Sean and Andy Hogan, Tom O Flaherty, PJ O’Reilly and of course the best man I ever saw to head a ball, Sean “Bobba” Kiely. Supporters from other clubs will correctly point to their hero’s, like Patsy Ward, Marty Hogan, Mick Flynn. All of their opinions would be valid and balanced. I witnessed all of them at the peak of their powers from behind the goal in the Showgrounds, Cahir Park, Cooke Park and many other grounds around the county.
A young smart alec once asked the great Christy Ring who was the greatest hurler of all time, Ring responded “If Jimmy Doyle had my strength, there would be no argument”. I am of the view that Lena Rice is Tipperary’s greatest sports person. Lena who? Lena won the Wimbledon Ladies single title in 1890. She was born in Marhill near New Inn and is buried there. You are entitled to point out that was over a 120 years ago. King Lear is on the English Leaving Cert curriculum and that was written by Shakespeare in 1608. A friend whose knowledge of horse racing surpasses any other person I know claims Lester Piggott is the greatest flat jockey of all time. Why? “Because he never lost a classic he should have won.” That will do me.
Look, I appreciate it is unfair to ask contemporary players from all codes to stand comparison with the great players and sportspersons of the past. But those of us who were lucky enough to witness them cannot be expected to understate the privilege. Nor can we be relied upon to accept quietly the accusation that our memories of Coxy, Pat Fox or Peter Lambert’s career in high class, pressurised games are flatteringly blurred by distance. Of course, brilliant sports people still emerge from this county. They are of their time. When we say that sport in Tipperary will never see the likes and know the riches brought to it by Coxy Halley or Lena Rice, we can point to current legends like Rachael Blackmore, Breda White, Bubbles, Paudie Maher, Noel McGrath, Tony Scully, Paul Breen, Mikey Quinlivan, Conor Sweeney, Daire lynch, Sean Tobin and the three Aisling’s, Moloney, McCarthy and Keller. We are dealing in reality not nostalgia.
Which brings me nicely to the whole debate about having an opinion. Everyone has and is of course entitled to an opinion. However bizarre it may appear, people who believe the earth is flat, despite evidence to the contrary are quite entitled to use social media to spread their views. Sadly, like every good invention, there are many negatives associated with social media. One being that we cannot offer an alternative view or opinion without being vilified. Many feel it is within their right, to abuse other users for having the nerve to offer a contrary view on something as innocent as a refereeing decision. In fact, as a society we have forgotten how to listen and be rational. We also take grave offence far too easily.
Last week’s decision by James Owens to award Tipperary a penalty in their Munster Hurling semi-final was the most talked about moment of the whole weekend. The previous evening Limerick played Cork and there would have been little complaint if referee Paud O’Dwyer had issued a couple of red cards in that game. Apparently having an interpretation of a rule that is not to the majority’s liking is worse than hitting lads on the head with a hurley. Whether a player claims it is accidental or not, these challenges are dangerous and reckless and do not show due concern for a fellow player. Claiming that they are all amateurs does not admonish players of their responsibility to the safety of their opponents.
Referees in the GAA are as about as popular as speed vans and wheel clampers. There is a level of abuse and aggression shown towards officials that is deemed acceptable within the association. To be a “ref” you need the thick skin of a rhinoceros. Ninety five percent of referee’s are doing their best, most if not all of their decisions are based on their opinion and interpretation of the rule. At all levels from under 10 to the adult grades, they run the gauntlet of constant criticism, verbal and even physical abuse. It is therefore no surprise that over time the job has become less palatable. What person in their right mind would touch it with a bargepole?
Words like injustice and criminal have no place in describing decisions made by an official in any code of sport. We must all learn to lose with dignity and celebrate with grace. Tipperary lost the 2009 All Ireland Hurling final because they failed to convert three goal chances, they won in 2010 because they converted four. Diarmuid Kirwan had nothing to do with it. We can all point to decisions that went for and against us. In defeat we need a scapegoat or an easy target, the referee is a good place to start. Referees aren’t the problem; it is the people who abused them on and off the field. A problem will arise when we have nobody left to referee our games. Can we all calm down and respect the opinion of others.
I can’t leave without mentioning the very sad passing of Dixie Currivan in Cashel last week. Dixie was the life and soul of Cashel Town FC. That great club and local sport lost more than it can afford to lose. Dixie passed away after a struggle against cancer that was prolonged by a characteristic refusal to let his spirit deteriorate along with his body. Trips over to Palmers Hill will never be the same. His contribution to local football and indeed the physical and mental wellbeing of many generations in his community cannot be overstated. Dixie talked plainly about complicated things, it was above all, a clear voice, ambiguous only when it was meant to be, when his tongue was firmly in his cheek. Meeting Dixie be in Cashel or Behind the goal in the Complex, I always left his company in better form than when I arrived. There was little he didn’t know about football and life. He will be missed.
See you soon Behind the Goal.