If you meet an asshole in the morning, you met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day, you’re the asshole.
Raylan Givens, Justified
Pat Bennett is a hero of mine, assuming that the Pat Bennett coaching Ballysaggart is the Pat Bennett of Ballysaggart who struck a late goal in the 1987 National League quarter-final against Cork in Walsh Park to level matters and set the stage for Anthony Cooney’s point that secured a stunning victory that had me lepping around the Town End
grass bank terrace like a mad thing. A hiding at Galway’s hands in the semi-final and a heartbreaking loss to Limerick in the Championship, where Pat’s first-half goal raised hopes of a shock win, did nothing to diminish the delight of the first time I saw Waterford win a knockout match against one of the game’s heavyweights. The first time is always a little bit special.
Hold that thought and contemplate something far less pleasant – the archetypal Tipperary jackass. We’ve all met several, even in real life, and while they are far more virulent on the internet (I firmly believe it was their antics that undid UpTheDeise.com) the ones in the flesh are worse because you can’t dismiss them as trolls. They fancy themselves as having struck every ball in every All-Ireland victory for the Premier County – did you know they’re the only county to have won an All-Ireland in every decade, a boast that gets aired at least every five minutes and is good until 2029? – and openly sneer at the shambolic efforts of a county like Waterford. You tell yourself that this character isn’t typical of Tipperary people in general, but you can’t help yourself. You burn with righteous indignation and rejoice every time they fall on their arses. Boy, does it feel good when that happens.
Which brings us back to Pat Bennett. His embittered rant after Ballysaggart’s loss to Creggan could be dismissed as being emotional after missing out on a once-in-lifetime opportunity that you have spent the best part of a working towards, but the comment about the referee John Keenan was bang out of order:
I don’t be critical of referees, I never do, but when you’re putting in a Wicklow referee that doesn’t know what hurling is about then that is what you get.
It must have been 25 years ago that my brother was on the Waterford team that won the Sonny Walsh Cup, the B equivalent of the Tony Forristal, by beating Wicklow in the final. Apart from the obvious feelings of delight at a Waterford win and pride in my brother’s part in that win, I remember admiring the Wicklow lads who had come all the way to Waterford to take on teams from the big guns and hoping that while they wouldn’t be good enough to beat Waterford that they’d be good enough to be a force in the future. Here we are in the future, and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that John Keenan was on that Wicklow team. It may not be right to label Pat Bennett an asshole or think less of everyone associated with Waterford hurling because of his comments but you couldn’t blame someone from Wicklow who did, especially given there is form for this kind of outburst in the person of Paddy Joe Ryan who was more temperate, but equally ill-judged, when criticising Pat Aherne (wasn’t very well-judged myself) after the drawn 2003 Munster semi-final against Limerick. If someone slagged off Waterford in these terms from the county of, apropos of nothing, Tipperary, we’d be mightily irked, and rightly so. Let’s hope the good folk of Wicklow are more understanding of the anger of a coach and father than we have reason to expect.
Just to put the tin hat on it, the injudicious nature of Bennett’s outburst mean that it’s going to be very hard for Ballysaggart to avoid the accusation of sour grapes over their objection to a couple of Creggan’s team – there’s even a thread effectively accusing them of it on the GAA Discussion Board – even though they have a very strong case. The relevant rule is:
Age Grades – R6.16 T.O
To be eligible for the Grades listed hereunder, a player shall meet the respective stated age criteria:
Adult: Be over 16 years.
Under-21: Be Under 21 years and Over 16 years.
Minor (Under 18): Be Under 18 years and Over 14 years.
Under 16: Be Under 16 years and Over 12 years.
Under 14: Be Under 14 years and Over 10 years.
Under 12: Be Under 12 years and Over 9 years.
To be “Under” an age shall mean that the player shall celebrate the Upper Limit birthday (e.g. 21st. for Under21 Grade) on or after the 1st. January of the Championship Year
To be “Over” an age shall mean that the player shall have celebrated the Lower Limit birthday (e.g. 16th. To participate in Senior/Under 21 Grades) prior to the 1st. January of the Championship Year. Girls may participate only up to and including the Under 12 Grade.
It’s is a little ambiguous, what with Senior and Adult being used interchangeably, but the spirit of it is crystal clear – if you are too young/old for the competition on 1st January of the year of the competition, you are not eligible to enter. If you are to assume that a new year means new eligibility rules apply, this would mean that any Minor/Under-21 players who was competing in such a competition during the final year of his/her eligibility would no longer be able to compete should the competition, for whatever reason, spill over into another calendar year. As for assuming that the All-Ireland series is a new competition, there were suggestions that Waterford would try that tack to render John Mullane eligible for the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny after he was sent off in the 2004 Munster final. We were told in no uncertain terms by the chattering classes that this would be a bad idea, and yet it is Ballysaggart who are getting stick for daring to question it when one of their opponents drives a coach and four through the spirit of the rules.
Alas, the difference is down to Pat Bennett. No club likes to win titles off the field, but it’s equally true that no club likes to lose to a club playing to a different set of rules. It’s important to establish the narrative so that should Ballysaggart ‘win’ in such a manner that it’s clear to all and sundry that they haven’t gotten the result overturned because they objected to a 16-year-old playing, but because Creggan at best played hard and fast with the rules and at worst were cheating. The chance to establish this narrative looks to have been lost – you only have to look at the GAA board thread to see that.
In the long run, I think it’s best if Ballysaggart lose their appeal. That’s not to say that Ballysaggart are wrong to pursue it. I dread to think of how many man/teenager hours have gone into their tilt at All-Ireland glory, and the chances of them ever getting another shot at it again in the near future are slim. They’d have slip back from Intermediate level in the county for starters, and I wouldn’t have thought they’d be planning to do that. The prize is so great that I can understand them not caring about the optics. Looking at the bigger picture though, we don’t want to acquire a collective reputation as a shower of whingers and it’s going to be impossible for that to be avoided after Pat Bennett’s incendiary whinge.