Ireland’s all-you-can-cheat attitude

There is a brilliant deflection going on in the wake of an outburst by Joe Brolly, the Gaelic football pundit, who let Seán Cavanagh have it with both barrels over an opportunist, cynical spot of cheating that arguably cost Monaghan a good crack at an All-Ireland semi-final.

Now the merits (such as they are) of the rules of Gaelic football can be debated elsewhere – the only point that interests me is the reaction to them, and what they say about the national psyche.

The first is that Seán Cavanagh is a good, sporting man of long standing, which may of course be true. What it ignores is that in this one instance he hauled a man down to ensure he wouldn’t score a goal.

The point is, as it is in many other areas of Irish life, that good people can do bad things fro good reasons. It’s neither an excuse for the bad behaviour, nor a shield to hide behind.

The wider issue is the idea that he did nothing wrong – if he did, the rules would be harsher. This, my sporting friends, is light-touch regulation in a nutshell.

Whole teams, seasons and eras are now being built upon the idea that a cynical foul is OK if the victory is achieved – that cheating is now somehow part of doing your best.

As the Anglo tapes show us, this extends from the practice fields of our GAA clubs to the boardrooms of our financial institutions, and indeed the corridors of Leinster House.

There is no longer any place for fair play or sportsmanship – all that matters is winning, getting your own way, and breaking (not bending – breaking) the rules is OK, as long as you get what you want.

It’s not. One of the major reasons sports exist is to teach morons like my good self to have some sort of a moral compass.

Sport has shown me that I can never be the best at anything, but within the rules and the spirit of fair play, I can be the best I can be.

That has on occasion brought medals and joy, more often than not it brings huge disappointment, but it has given me more throughout my life than I could ever possibly return.

And in particular I remember those times I cheated, got booked, played dirty, fought with my opponent, got sent off or otherwise let myself and my team down.

Those are among the most shameful moments in my life, but in and of themselves they do not make me a bad man – not least because I have tried to learn from them.

So in the debate that will rage over Brolly’s comments, it’s worth remembering – one honest victory is worth a thousand hollow wins achieved by cheating.

And whether the rules say that it was a yellow card or a red card or a black card makes no difference – Cavanagh could be Mahatma Gandhi, but what he did in that instance was wrong.

It was cheating, it was unsporting and whatever the rules say, he knew it.

Deep down, Seán Cavanagh, Joe Brolly and plenty of other great sportsmen and women can probably agree that in sport, as in life, the only real victory is to play fair.