Hell in a handbag

 

The Crokes will, no doubt, be expecting more 'handbags' against Crossmaglen

JOE Duffy had the outraged southern masses queuing up last week to vent their spleen about those dirty Tyrone men in particular and northerners in general, not once, but twice. Two shows and still they jammed the switchboards, each new caller more indignant than the last. As the contradictions and exaggerations ebbed and flowed, it became a competition.

A, “Distraught” Kerry woman described how Declan O’Sullivan was ‘pushing’ a Tyrone player away when he was attacked from behind by a woman with a handbag. Next up was a man from Kildare who said that the lady actually went to shake hands with Declan and as he stretched out his hand to her, she suddenly switched to attack mode, beating him mercilessly with her Gucci bag.

“Like, it wasn’t handbags Joe, if you know what I mean. The Northern Ireland crowd should be told to play their football up in Northern Ireland,” he suggested. After a while, the callers, sensing it all might be starting to sound a bit partisan, began to describe themselves as neutrals. Surprising the number of neutrals at a junior club match in Portlaoise.

A woman with a strong Kerry accent said she wasn’t really a Gaelic football fan at all and decided to go with her friend just for the day out. “It was terrible Joe, really terrible. The children were terrified. Like, there were loads of them crying Joe. It was devastating.”

According to the callers, there were hundreds of children cowering in the stands, on the verge of nervous breakdown. Innocent lives needlessly ruined. The high point however was an exchange between Joe and Emer, the Dromid PRO, who had, it goes without saying, never seen worse in all her years.

“Joe [very gravely]: So tell me about the handbag incident Emer.
Emer: In fairness, the attack on Declan with the handbag was quite – like – severe Joe.
Joe: Was it a big handbag, a small handbag?
Emer: Well, ’twas a fine handbag Joe.
Joe: Was there any metal on it, or a clasp?
Emer: Well I suppose the chain might have been metal Joe. Like, it looked like just a fairly big handbag to me.”

By the time Joe and Emer were finished, this was the deadliest handbag in the history of handbags. The sort of handbag that a Russian secret service agent would use to assassinate a dissident poet outside his local pub. A handbag built by the CIA in an underground facility in the Arizona desert to be used to take out Al Qaeda’s top brass. What could be scarier than a fine handbag – with a chain (possibly)?

The shame is that wherever Gaelic football is played, Kerry are looked up to. It is the spiritual home of the game and its ethics. Their footballers have passed into legend, from O’Connell to Moynihan. This is why the unprecedented public campaigns mounted by the hierarchies of the Dromid Pearse’s and Killarney Dr Croke’s clubs are so disappointing.

When Dromid played Derrytresk, they got their backsides handed to them on a plate. They lost by six points and it could have been more. Since then, their hierarchy and supporters, not their players, have cried like girls – not Tyrone girls, but ordinary girls.

The club even complained that a female supporter swung her handbag at Declan O’Sullivan as he left the field. Their manager Michael O’Connell has publicly demanded that Derrytresk be banned from playing in the final

“I don’t think I will ever go to a football match again if they are not thrown out,” he wailed. The real Mick O’Connell must be cringing. Another one of their supporters has written to Croke Park to ask for his money back. Good luck with that one, my old son.

I have carefully watched the video of the incident. For what it is worth, it is the Dromid number four who lights the fuse, swinging punches at a Tyrone mentor who turns his head away and swings back at him one armed.

The jumping of the hoardings by some of the Tyrone subs and mentors can’t be condoned. Nor can the swinging of punches. But having watched the footage on several occasions, I agree with Colm O’Rourke’s comment on Newstalk that it has been blown out of all proportion.

Every now and again there is going to be a fist-fight, particularly when a player punches a mentor right in front of the opposing subs bench. The authorities will deal with that. The real story lies in the hysterical public blackening of Derrytresk by the Dromid club and the insight this and subsequent events have provided into the southern psyche.

Petrol was quickly poured on the Dromid fire by the extraordinary request from Dr Croke’s chairman Vincent Casey that their supporters be segregated from Crossmaglen’s for their upcoming All-Ireland club semi-final. Gooch’s heart must have sank when he heard that. Casey had other demands.

“We are also looking for an increase in the number of stewards at the venue and a bigger Garda presence than last Sunday.”

What about sniffer dogs at the venue from 7am on the day of the game? Perhaps armed Gardai to protect the Croke’s players? Surely Gooch should be placed under round-the-clock security at a secret location? At the very minimum, would it not be prudent to issue the Croke’s players with protective anti-handbag vests, engineered to withstand an attack from, “A fine handbag”, even one with a metal chain or clasp.

The Croke’s club has since tried to row back from their chairman’s statement, describing the public reaction in the north as a misinterpretation but the cat is out of the bag. The taste of sour grapes lingers. More than that, one can smell their fear. In 2007, Cross emphatically beat Croke’s in the All-Ireland club final replay.

Afterwards, their chairman at the time and current Kerry supremo Patrick O’Sullivan publicly whinged that a Crossmaglen woman hit Ambrose O’Donovan with her umbrella after he had been red carded. Doesn’t he know that in Cross, a woman who wields an umbrella is a pacifist?

What has this public witch hunt achieved? Firstly, it has brought forth a torrent of cheap anti-Northern bile on the Joe Duffy show and other phone in programmes. Secondly, it has caused unfair damage to the reputation of the Kingdom. I have spoken with several Kerry greats since this blew up and they are horrified by it.

I have socialised with these men sober and drunk and have never heard the slightest hint of anti-Tyrone or anti-Northern bias. Thirdly, the BBC has enthusiastically trained its howitzers on the GAA and blasted away at us, happy as pigs in muck.

Messrs Casey & O’Sullivan have ensured their team will get their backsides handed to them on a plate by Cross on the 18th February. As for the Croke’s supporters, I’ll bet they’ve never even heard of a sawn-off double-barrelled umbrella. I will be ringing Liveline on the Monday, posing as a neutral of course. North men, South men, comrades all, my arse.

 

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