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Cocaine in our clubs: how worried should we be?

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by Adam Moynihan

Championship structures and the long overdue merger with the LGFA will grab the headlines but Motion 34 at tomorrow’s GAA Congress also merits examination.

Laois club Rathdowney Errill have suggested that all club players should be required to complete courses on alcohol, gambling and substance abuse. If the motion passes, any player who lines out for their team without taking the requisite courses faces a one-match ban.

Rathdowney Errill chairman Tim Barry told RTÉ’s Marty Morrissey that he has seen young people taking cocaine. "It frightened me,” he said. “I saw the wildness that got into them after using this drug. Then I became aware that this was freely available.”

A few months ago, addiction counsellor and former Limerick hurler Ciarán Carey painted a stark picture. “It’s rippling through most villages and parishes in the country and there aren’t too many clubs where cocaine isn’t alive. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid to say that about all codes; soccer, rugby, GAA or whatever, it’s gone that serious.”

If that is the case, the first question is: why? Why is cocaine prevalent in so many of our sports clubs, even ones far removed from the hustle and bustle of urban life?

AVAILABLE

For starters, it would probably be safe to assume that drugs like cocaine are more readily available in Ireland today than they were, say, 20 years ago. It stands to reason that this is particularly true of rural Ireland.

I have also noticed a blurring of the lines between country and town clubs over the years – young men from the town and young men from the country are culturally and infrastucturally closer than ever before - and this is likely a factor in the spread of drugs in rural settings.

In Ireland in general, attitudes towards recreational drugs are gradually relaxing, and they have been for some time. There is less of a taboo now than there was 10 or 15 years ago, for example, and that trend is likely to continue.

Also, the age profile of teams has changed, particularly in the GAA. It’s a young man’s game these days, and young men are more likely to experiment with illicit drugs than guys in their mid-to-late-thirties.

HEALTH

The second question is: should we be worried? Should we be as frightened as the club chairman in Laois, who was spurred into action by the “wildness” in his neighbours’ eyes?

Health is naturally the primary concern. Abusing any substance is dangerous and the fact that cocaine is unregulated is hugely problematic. If fellas in your local are taking coke, you can be 100% certain that they have no idea where it came from or what exactly is in it. (Whether or not legalising such produce would help is perhaps a topic for another day, and without question one that is beyond my remit as a sportswriter for the Killarney Advertiser.)

There is also the sporting question of whether or not the use of recreational drugs can hinder a player’s performance on the pitch. Again, I’m not an expert, but I don’t think a doctor would contradict me if I suggested that abusing any substance over a period of time will inevitably take its toll.

PRESSURE

As potentially serious as the physical dangers are, they are not more concerning to me than the psychological ones. Personally, I would be worried about the pressure young players are under when they graduate to a senior team environment in which drug use is commonplace.

Let’s say a number of players are taking cocaine on a team night out. If you’re part of the group, it would be difficult to not be aware of it, and even being aware of it makes things awkward. While I don’t believe there would be peer pressure in an explicit, 1980’s anti-drug advert, "what are you, some kind of chicken?" kind of way, there would still be pressure. Everyone wants to fit in. “If some of the lads are taking it, do I need to take it to be one of the lads?”

The reality is that if someone really wants to try it, they will. But if an individual doesn’t want to go down that road, they shouldn’t feel as though they have to.

Courses like the ones suggested by the Rathdowney Errill chairman could be beneficial, but ultimately I think there’s a huge onus on the senior players within the group keep an eye out for their younger teammates. Be open about it. Explain that there’s no expectation for them to partake and it’s not going to change what people think of them. Drugs aren’t for everyone. Be yourself.

Even if they have been exposed to cocaine before they join the senior team - which is possible - the elder statesmen can still have a word.

The biggest problem with vices like cocaine is that you never know how someone is going to take to it. For most people, it’s a phase. For others, it becomes an addiction. The same goes for drinking for that matter, and gambling.

(As an aside, I think there is a degree of hypocrisy in this discussion. People of a certain generation will be appalled at the very notion that someone in their club might take cocaine, but they’ll turn a blind eye to club members who may have issues with alcohol or betting. Legality is a factor here, naturally, but even so. Something being legal doesn’t necessarily make it safe.)

So, yes, education is important. But when it comes down to it, if one of the lads is in trouble, or even in danger of getting themselves into trouble, the leaders in the dressing room should be there to get them out of it. Or at least to point them in the right direction.

After all, isn’t that what teammates are for?

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Glorious weather for Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships

It was a day of glorious sunshine yesterday (Sunday) as Flesk Valley Rowing Club hosted the 2022 Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships for the very first time in beautiful Castlelough […]

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It was a day of glorious sunshine yesterday (Sunday) as Flesk Valley Rowing Club hosted the 2022 Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships for the very first time in beautiful Castlelough Bay on Lough Lein.

Hundreds flocked to the Valley shore to see the coastal clubs of Kerry race in crews from Under 12 to Masters. As well as clubs from around the Ring of Kerry, there was a strong representation from the Killarney clubs with the Workmen, Commercials and Fossa wearing their colours with pride. The atmosphere, colour, fun and fierce competition produced a spectacular day that will live long in the memory.

The event was opened by the Councillor John O’Donoghue, vice chair of the Killarney Municipal District who congratulated Flesk Valley on their centenary, which occurred during 1920, and wished all of the clubs a successful day’s racing.

The first race was preceded by a special blessing of the boats by Fr Eugene McGillycuddy, who also remembered Brendan Teahan of Cromane Rowing Club in his prayers.

Afterwards John Fleming, chair of Flesk Valley, expressed his immense pride and satisfaction with the success of the regatta.

“It’s our first time ever hosting a regatta, but we wanted to do something special to mark our 102 years in existence,” he said.

“It was a lot of work, but we have a fantastic hard-working committee in Flesk Valley who really pulled out all the stops to make it happen, and we received fantastic support from our members, parents, other clubs and local businesses.”

John also thanked the Kerry Coastal Rowing Association, in particular Mary B Teahan and Andrew Wharton, and the staff of the Killarney National Park for all their support and encouragement in hosting this event.

This was a qualifying event and the Kerry clubs will be heading to Wexford next weekend to complete for honours at the All-Ireland Coastal Rowing Championships.

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Live referee mics should be the norm – swearing concerns be damned

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by Adam Moynihan

I was disappointed to learn that the GAA are preventing TG4 from using their live referee mic in this Sunday’s Wexford hurling final.

(And not just because I had already written an article saying how great live referee mics are and how they are sure to be implemented across the board. Ctrl + A. Delete.)

TG4’s GAA coverage is superb and they raised the bar once again when they mic’d up referee John O’Halloran for the Kerry hurling final between Causeway and Ballyduff.

Pinning a microphone on the referee is standard practice in televised rugby and judging by the positive response to Gaelic games’ first foray into this territory, I was expecting it to become the norm.

It still might but, explaining their decision to The 42, the GAA said that they were not aware beforehand of the ref mic being trialled in Stack Park on Sunday.

“They believe such a development will require more discussion and education if it is to be implemented on a more regular basis in live TV coverage and could possibly need a policy change,” Fintan O’Toole reported.

The image of the Association is surely the primary concern here.

Players and managers – usually the worst behaved participants when it comes to things like swearing – will be among those who get “educated” on the subject. Some verbal abuse that might otherwise be muted for television viewers will, in all likelihood, be picked up by the referee’s microphone. You would imagine that the teams involved will be reminded of this the week of a televised game.

It also makes sense from Croke Park’s point of view to speak to referees and give them guidance on how to conduct themselves when the mic is on.

In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if senior GAA figures are currently fretting over the possibility of an agitated ref making headlines for something they say in the heat of the moment. And make no mistake about it, some match officials can eff and jeff with the best of them.

A friend of mine (a Wexford man, funnily enough) recalls an incident when a teammate was unceremoniously taken out of it by an opponent.

“Ah ref, for f***’s sake!” the victim complained.

“I gave you the f***ing free,” the referee replied. “What do you want me to do, slap him in the face with a wet fish?!”

The GAA might think that a referee swearing like that would leave all of us red-faced. In reality the clip would be a viral sensation and the general public would probably call for the official in question to run for Áras an Uachtárain. (He’d get my ****ing vote.)

The odd swear word from someone involved is bound to sneak through every now and then but you’d hear the same – and plenty more – at any match you attend from Cahersiveen to County Antrim.

Implementing the referee mic on a wider scale is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t appear to take a huge amount of effort or expense for the broadcaster to set it up and, more importantly, it offers a wonderful insight into the unknown.

Listening to referees explain their decisions in real time will clear a lot of things up for commentators, analysts and the media. We will no longer have to speculate about what they did or did not see, or what specific rule is being cited, or why.

Viewers, especially those who might be casual followers of the sport, will appreciate it too and become more educated; I know that’s how I feel when I watch rugby, for example.

It just leads to greater transparency and understanding.

Well done to TG4 and the Kerry County Board for being the pioneers. I’m sure others will follow their lead – as soon as the GAA allow them to do so.

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