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GAA misinformation in the WhatsApp age

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On the surface it’s a fairly simple app. Boring even. A basic messaging service that doesn’t really compare with Twitter or Instagram or Facebook in terms of features.

But in many ways this simple little app has emerged as a one of our main sources of sports news and information. Whether it’s direct via a friend or indirect via the infamous forwarded message, WhatsApp pumps a never-ending stream of sports-related truths, half-truths and bare-faced lies onto our screens. The problem is: how do we tell our fact from our fiction?

Well, in this age of misinformation, it’s probably wise to start off by assuming that its false and then work backwards from there. By this stage we all know that forwarded messages (i.e. messages from another chat, now rendered anonymous, that have been passed on hundreds or thousands of times before reaching our phone) are notoriously untrustworthy.

Recently, rumours surrounding the Kerry football manager Peter Keane – specifically that he was facing a player coup – spread like wildfire on WhatsApp, forcing the county board as well as present and former players to clarify that there was no truth whatsoever in the speculation.

“The erroneous WhatsApp messages and subsequent social media furore that emerged in the weeks following our defeat (to Cork) had, in our opinion, the aim of damaging the reputation of players and management, and it has to be said that the prevalence of fake news has increased with the rise of social media,” Kerry GAA Chairman Tim Murphy said.

In the past, videos and images that supposedly showed intercounty players fighting or misbehaving in some other way have been debunked, but not before they have been dispatched to the four corners of the country. A photo popped up recently of a well-known player apparently holding an illegal substance. It turned out the picture had been photoshopped. In the original version, he was holding a pin in support of a charitable foundation.

That’s the dangerous side of WhatsApp, the side that can damage reputations for the sake of a “joke”.

Teams and individuals have also gotten into trouble when things they actually did were shared widely via the app. Who could forget the Ballyragget hurlers? In 2017, the Kilkenny club, who had won the intermediate championship a couple of days earlier, earned national headlines for all the wrong reasons when footage of some of their players cavorting with strippers leaked via Snapchat to WhatsApp. What a fuss that particular episode caused.

Local club Kilcummin also had to deal with a bit of a media storm last year when a video of one of their training sessions left the team group chat and found its way into the pockets of half the country. The clip showed a coach shouting profanities at his players as they wrestled on the ground, and it drew plenty of tut-tutting from the Gaelic football purists. It all blew over pretty quickly but it wasn’t much craic for the club at the time.

Leaks are common enough when it comes to classified team information (which, admittedly, is great from a journalistic standpoint). Maybe it’s to be expected: when you have 40 odd fellas in a group, what are the chances that at least one of them isn’t as wedded to the vow of secrecy as the rest? All it takes is for one person to share it in one external group. Once that happens, you’re done. Even professional outfits like the Irish national soccer team have had issues with this kind of thing in the past.

There are some funny stories to come out of WhatsApp, though. One of my favourites is the time a local player, disillusioned with not getting a run in a certain game, went home and posted a picture in the group chat. It showed his bin – with his football boots sticking out of it.

Getting your hands on someone else’s phone can also lead to some amusing WhatsApp episodes, as I found out first-hand (from the wrong side of the joke) a couple of years ago. I started training with the Legion again (one of my many failed comeback attempts) and one night, not long after I had returned, I was out with a few of my teammates. I was standing at the bar with my phone in my hand and next thing it was gone, snatched by a thief who disappeared into the crowd.

When it came back into my possession, I discovered that the assailant (a teammate) had sent a heartfelt WhatsApp message to our manager, Stephen Stack, saying how glad I was to be back and how I was looking forward to working with him for the rest of the year. Bear in mind that this was around 2am on a Saturday night. On a scale of one to Ballyragget it wasn’t that bad, but it was still fairly embarrassing.

I suppose like all of these new technologies, we’re still finding out how to use WhatsApp and how to take and process the information that we receive. Really the best advice is to take everything you read on WhatsApp with a pinch of salt. (Especially if you’re a manager and you get an emotional message from a player you barely know very late on a Saturday night.)

 

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It’s tip-off time for new-look Lakers

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National League Division 1

Scotts Lakers v Limerick Sport Eagles

Saturday at 7.30pm

Killarney Sports & Leisure Centre

The 2022/23 National League tips off on Saturday evening and the Scotts Lakers will be hoping to get their campaign off to a flyer at home to the Limerick Sport Eagles.

The Lakers narrowly missed out on a playoff berth last time around, mainly due to a disappointing start to the season. Playing their first four home games at alternative venues probably didn’t help; the Killarney Sports & Leisure Centre was being used as a makeshift vaccination centre at the time. That’s all ancient history now, thankfully.

With that in mind, a fast start will be a priority, beginning with the visit of the Eagles this weekend.

ROSTER

It’s always difficult to tell until at least a few matches have been played but head coach Jarlath Lee appears to have made some good moves during the off-season.

Godwin Boahen will be missed but Dutch point guard Esebio Strijdhaftig has come in as a replacement, and Ukrainian big man Dmytro Berozkin – all 6’10” of him – has also come on board.

American shooter Eric Cooper Jr’s time here was brief; he has moved on already with Indiana native Jack Ferguson filling his shoes. Just like former laker Seán O’Brien, Ferguson played college ball with Colgate University.

The Lakers have retained the services of Portuguese player Rui Saravia, a skilled passer who has settled in nicely.

Just as essential as the imports are the local players who make up the majority of the squad. Mark O’Shea and Paul Clarke are important figures in the squad, although their involvement is likely to be curtailed by football commitments for the time being.

Youngsters Jamie O’Sullivan, Senan O’Leary and David Gleeson could well see more game time this season after exhibiting great promise in 2021/22, and other St Paul’s graduates like Mark Sheahan, Jack O’Sullivan and Eoin Carroll will also play their part.

A player to keep a close eye on is Ronan Collins, a Gneeveguilla native who has represented Ireland with distinction at underage level.

The club will be hoping for a healthy turnout for their season opener.

Meanwhile, the Lakers’ crosstown rivals the Killarney Cougars have an away fixture to get things started. They take on SETU Carlow (formerly IT Carlow) at the Barrow Centre on Saturday evening.

WOMEN’S LEAGUE

The St Paul’s women’s team (who are back in the National League for the first time since 2012) are also ready for their opening match of the new campaign. They travel to Kilkenny to take on the Marble City Hawks on Saturday at 7pm.

The team is managed by well-known local coach James Fleming and will be backboned by Killarney players like Lynn Jones, Rheanne O’Shea, Cassandra Buckley and current Ireland U16 international Leah McMahon.

Canadian Sophia Paska (formerly of the Limerick Celtics) and American Yuleska Ramirez Tejeda (ex-Limerick Sport Huskies) will add some recent league experience to the squad.

Paul’s first home game of the 2022/23 season will come next Saturday, October 8 against the Celtics.

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Adam Moynihan: Culture of lawlessness is partly to blame for GAA violence

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Why are so many GAA matches turning violent and/or abusive to the point that they need to be abandoned?

In Kerry, two underage fixtures had to be called off this past month alone. One, an U11 hurling game in which scores weren’t even being kept, was ended prematurely by the referee who was apparently on the receiving end of persistent verbal abuse. Another, an U15 football match in Kilcummin, came to a halt after a Cordal mentor was allegedly physically assaulted. The man in question ended up in hospital.

The spate of violence has not been confined to Kerry. Far from it. Matches in Roscommon, Wexford and Mayo have also been blighted by attacks on match officials. And some referees are rightly saying, “no more”. After a ref was attacked at a minor game in Roscommon last month, referees across the county briefly went on strike in solidarity.

If GAA officials are not concerned about the same thing happening again, quite conceivably on a wider scale, they should be.

Where does it all come from, this abuse and this violence? Why is it so prevalent in Gaelic games?

While it’s true that there is invariably a negative public reaction to instances of violence at GAA matches, I actually think a significant percentage of stakeholders are too accepting of it as a phenomenon.

Take the Armagh-Galway incident from this past summer for example. When Armagh sub Tiernan Kelly waded into a melee and gouged Damien Comer’s eye, the video footage enraged the vast majority of people who saw it. Kelly was widely condemned for his actions, even by outsiders like media personalities and politicians.

But then came the counter-reaction from within GAA circles. They said that Kelly was being vilified. The response was over the top. He was a good guy who simply made a mistake. These things happen.

As a GAA lover I personally can’t stand it when people who don’t follow the sport weigh in on these issues (politicians especially) but, for me, most of what was initially said about Kelly was justified. Sticking your finger in someone’s eye doesn’t just happen. It’s a despicable act of violence. In the end he got a six-month ban, meaning he misses a grand total of zero intercounty matches. Does that punishment fit the crime?

Surely a stronger message needs to be issued that people who engage in violence are not welcome.

When it comes to anyone entering the field of play – be they a supporter, mentor or some kind of hanger-on – and physically assaulting a referee or a player or another coach, they must be dealt with in the strongest possible terms. I’m talking about lifetime bans.

As a further deterrent, clubs and teams who fail to control their members should be punished appropriately. This should include expulsion from competitions for repeat offenders. As long as violent individuals are getting away lightly thanks to disciplinary action that doesn’t go far enough, these things will continue to happen.

GAA rule-makers have to get serious about the scourge of violence before referees pull the plug. Or before someone gets severely injured. Or worse.

I can’t help but feel as though our broadly lax attitude towards the laws of the game is a significant factor also. I’ve written this sentence on numerous occasions before so you may be sick of reading it, but I’ll stop saying it when it stops being true: so many rules in the GAA are so poorly enforced, you wonder why they bothered writing them down in the first place.

You have to hop or solo after four steps, but you can get away with seven or eight. You have to wear a gumshield, but you can tuck it into your sock. You have to be 13 metres away from the referee when he throws in a hop ball, but two metres will do. Managers have to stay off the pitch, but five yards over the line is grand. You have to make a clear striking motion when executing a handpass in hurling, but you can throw it too.

Whatever suits.

There is a culture of lawlessness in Gaelic football and hurling that I don’t think exists in any other sports of their kind.

It makes the games impossible to referee “properly” because every participant and observer has their own interpretation of what’s allowed. The referee can’t be right in everyone’s eyes if the rules have multiple nebulous interpretations.

So, with that in mind, should we be surprised that referees are getting it from all angles? Is it any wonder that people who should never even dream of entering the field of play feel as though they can?

Handing down proper punishments for violent attacks is really important but we must also have far more respect for the rules on a wider scale. No more half measures.

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