Hurlers on the ditch always score

Starting out on this latest ramble, let it be known that, by and large, it is not another detailing the travails one is currently engaged in. Even though writing about same can be, and is, highly therapeutic. There was one gruelling incident lately which will be dealt with as this saunter continues, but for now, please read on…

Prior to a recent NH Flat race – a Bumper in other words – in Listowel Ruby Walsh commented on how Willie Mullins’s runner was playing up before the start and acting ‘green’. For the uninitiated, bumpers are flat races for horses that will spend the majority of their careers jumping obstacles. A horse showing signs of ‘greenness’ is basically an animal – usually on its first visit to a racecourse – which hasn’t a clue what it’s supposed to do.

In the course of his observations, the 11-time champion jockey made reference to young amateur rider Aubrey McMahon – who was piloting the Mullins inmate part owned by his father Luke. The McMahons have had a long and very fruitful association with the master trainer thanks to horses such as So Young and Uncle Junior and Bleu Berry and Cilaos Emery and Whisky Sour. There’s more, but that’s not a bad shortlist!

As it happened, the race turned out exactly as Ruby had thought it might, Aubrey’s mount ran a fine race on debut, coming home second behind a useful Paul Gilligan-trained steed but obviously with still plenty to learn about the game.

Mention of the young jockey got me thinking. Or more specifically trawling online. Upon which a wonderful interview with Luke, conducted by my friend Darragh O’Conchuir was unearthed. Therein, the familiar owner detailed how his son had briefly became slightly disenchanted with the sport.

Talented amateur jockey Aubrey McMahon

Now, it wasn’t a case of the weight issues that often haunt tall horsemen. Nor was it lack of interest. Certainly not down to lack of opportunity either. No, the young man’s decision to step away had been down to the flack he’d been receiving online relating to his exploits in the saddle.

There are those who would term such morons as engage in that type of cowardly activity ‘Keyboard Warriors’, though the tagline could scarcely be more ill-fitting. Warrior conjures images of strength and courage and bravery – which anybody travelling atop several tonnes of horse flesh must have in trailer loads. Hiding behind a screen and lambasting all and sundry couldn’t be more polarised from that.

Perhaps fortune does favour the brave however. McMahon the younger got back on the horse, literally, and was handsomely rewarded for his courage in so-doing when landing the big amateur riders handicap at the Galway Festival – what will forever be known to many of us as the GPT – aboard Whisky Sour. Thus annexing something of a Holy Grail for sportspeople of that ilk.

Several thoughts abound here. It is known that there have been misgivings about the likes of Aubrey – and Barry Connell before him – riding their own horses instead of some of the more ‘fashionable’ pilots. As far as this punter is concerned, those paying the fees are entitled to do as they please. Besides that, the former of the two mentioned above has ridden for Ted Walsh and Gordon Elliott as well, and not always on family owned stock either.

But then, the hurlers on the ditch will always score with their cheap shots. That came to mind recently when perusing some of the online comment following RTE’s baffling and highly disappointing decision defenestrating with the services of Joe Brolly from their All Ireland Final replay coverage. And, if the rumours are correct, seemingly permanently.

Good Friends: Joe Brolly with Meath referee David Gough

I’ve never met the man from Dungiven, yet. Time was spent in Pat Spillane’s company on a couple of occasions, most notably in his pub in Templenoe, while one was fortunate to have Colm O’Rourke make the transition from hero to a friend a long time ago now.

However, aside from all the marvellous and selfless work Joe has done regarding organ donation, he has been, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the reason a lot of people watched RTE’s GAA coverage. He’s been the national sport’s Eamon Dunphy or George Hook or Ted Walsh. Not pandering to the tippy-tappy agenda and not afraid to stir pot.

Out of that skillet has come considerable good, too. “Let the kids play tennis” should be granted similar status to “Let them eat cake”. At the very least, the Black Card rule should be re-christened the Joe Brolly Sanction. The intentions of the said dictum were undoubtedly good, it certainly has reduced cynicism on the playing fields. Problems only arise with the interpretation and implementation thereof.

Getting back to the situation which appears to have gotten Brolly shafted, his comments regarding David Gough’s officiating of the drawn game were hardly in mortal sin territory. Definitely not in the same stratosphere as Richard Keys and Andy Gray on Sky. Moreover, the Derry native acknowledged afterwards that the ‘offending’ (Lord help us) analysis was wide of the mark while the ultra-talented Slane GFC whistler also confirmed the rapport remains strong between the two.

Some of what was said about the Meath referee in the build up to the stalemate was infinitely worse than anything uttered by the former kiss-blowing corner forward during the broadcast. Gough is the best exponent of his craft there is – something nearly universally accepted. His handling of the latest showdown between the two old gunslingers received almost unequivocal praise – a rarity for any referee.

Which in itself gives folly to the GAA’s insistence on having different controllers for re-matches. If someone’s discharge of their duties is as good as those of the former St Patrick’s Classical School student were accepted to be, it’s not only highly unfair on the individual in question to depose them, it doesn’t make sense.

Remember, Tommy Howard became as big a legend himself thanks to his association with the four-game saga between Meath and Dublin as did any of the participants therein. Similarly, there weren’t too many quibbles about Pat O’Toole’s handling of the trilogy between the Royal County and Kildare in 1997.

However, to return to point, if, as seems likely, the legal eagle was knocked off his perch owing to his opinions on David’s performance in Act I of this season’s football showpiece, it is ridiculous, petty and a classic case of discharging cordite on one’s own hoof!

What prompted production of what you’ve been reading is that, upon hearing of the spectacled one being sent to dry dock, this one typing finger took to Twitter to opine that the national broadcaster would miss the pundit far more than will be the case the other way around.

Upon which your columnist was what they called trolled, nastily, for what I think was the first time. The detractor in question opined that Joe wouldn’t engage in certain activity with yours truly! Now, not only was it insulting and highly upsetting – given the area that was being referred to – in view the fact that Mr Brolly was ‘tagged’ in the snide jibe as well it could’ve been said to have skated fairly thin ice.

I’ll admit, the crass, hurtful comment was allowed get in on me more than should have been the case. Especially now. However, wasn’t it symbolic of the flippancy with which much of life is infested nowadays. In a sense, Joe Brolly’s comments were whimsical too. That he felt compelled to apologise for them says more about society than it did about the remarks themselves. The whole debacle provoked a prevailing thought in this seat which was the catalyst for this piece appearing here

And it’s an inclination which can be affixed to more than the relevant here. Unless you are directly invested in a given situation, you truly have no understanding of what it entails. In today’s fickle world, the line between having an opinion and being reckless with or about it is very thin.

In this instance, RTE dropped a clanger. They may yet end up singing the chorus of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.

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