Fingers Philly and Badass Costa

Different sports, same ambivalence towards macho antics

Chelsea soccer striker Diego Costa tangles with Martin Skrtel of Liverpool
Dublin Gaelic football defender Philly McMahon was accused of making contact with the eyes of Ciaran Donaghy of Kerry in this tackle

The TV cameras seemed to show Philly McMahon’s hand had made contact with the area around Ciaran Donaghy’s left eye, but Sunday Game pundit Kevin McStay seemed to be caught between a Dean Rock and a hard place: condemnation of an apparent act of on-field thuggery weighing against not being seen to rain on Dublin’s All-Ireland victory parade.

Former Kerry star Tomas O Se had brought it up, but of course, risking the obvious accusation of sour grapes, he sort of trailed off,  noting McMahon might be getting ‘a letter in the post’.

Former Hill 16 darling Ciarán Whelan was careful in his own down-with-that-sort-of-thing prevarication.

Former Mayo forward McStay, who also once played with McMahon’s club Ballymun Kickhams, rested his case: “I don’t want to say any more about it but his hand didn’t need to be where it was”.

Where does McMahon play? On the edge, the panel agreed. On the edge, just like Chelsea’s spaghetti western bad-ass striker Diego Costa.

The previous day, on Match of the Day, we listened as pundits Alan Shearer and Danny Murphy told us how much they liked Costa’s on-field spikiness and refusal to be dominated by defenders, but he had “overstepped the mark” this time.

The same Diego Costa the MOTD cameras had captured catching Arsenal centre half Laurent Koscielny twice on the face in one incident: once pushing back with both hands, followed by a swipe with his left had that also involved the striker’s thumb lingering near the defender’s right eye. And this before chest-thumping the aggrieved Koscielny to the ground and starting into the other centre back, Gabriel Paulista, scratching his neck and provoking him into being sent off.

With just a yellow card to his name Costa signed out early with a petulant flick of the boot at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Earlier, on the BBC’s Final Score, Garth Crooks blamed referee Mike Dean: “The only people that were interested in sending Gabriel off were the officials. The fans weren’t, the players weren’t,” said the former Spurs man …. “It’s not about you, Mike. It’s about the games. People come here and pay good money to see football. Not to see you get over officious like a petulant schoolteacher.”

Of course Costa’s manager was embarrassed by his striker’s antics? Not a bit of it: “I can guess that when you were a kid you played badminton. It’s a great sport”, said Jose Mourinho witheringly to a reporter who raised the matter.

There you had it: two different sports, one amateur, one professional, but the same ambivalence from players, pundits and managers towards hard-man antics on the field of play. And the referee gets it in the neck again … or was that Gabriel?

This same lack of respect for referees and officials reached its height at home just a couple of weeks again when Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly had his red card for striking Mayo’s Lee Keegan of Mayo in their drawn All-Ireland semi-final rescinded by the GAA’s Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) in time to play in the replay a week later.

Watching all of these incidents and their aftermaths with my sports-mad 10-year-old-son made for major discomfort on my part as years of fatherly sermons about always playing fair and treating the referee with respect, even when you disagree with his decisions, were examined in the light and shade of what my lad was actually witnessing.

Who knows, maybe the next time he doesn’t want to go to bed, or some other discipline issue is raised, he might seek to refer to the Competitions Control Committee  or the DRA?

Good and bad? Right and wrong? Taking responsibility for misdemeanors? Whatever!

“It was a slippy day, the ball was on the ground to be challenged,”  said McMahon later in the week. “I went down to challenge the ball and he’s a big lad, trying to get around Kieran Donaghy is hard.”

As for the initial reluctance of his immediate opponent, Colm Cooper, to shake hands with him after  the game, he merely noted:

“It’s the heat of the battle. We’d like to say it’s part of our culture is humility  and the same with the Kerry lads , What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch We shook hands and that was the end of it.

“We’re grown men, we play a physical sport. At the end of the day, the result is what ends it, we shake hands and get on with it.”

“If I get all these accusations against me and I win an All-Ireland, I don’t give a s***”.

He said he hoped his success will have an effect on the people of Ballymun where he hails from and will highlight the ongoing work and fundraising he is doing for the John Caffrey Scholarship fund, named after his late brother which helps to get 18- to 24-year-olds in the area off the live register and back to college and into sport.

He admitted he always took a ‘war-like’ approach to games. “It’s a tough game, playing as a defender and I’ve so much respect for defenders, and especially Dublin defenders. When we step up and we mark, we look the man in the eye and we’re saying, ‘We’re going to war today, me and you, and let’s see who comes out on the top end’.

— Enda Sheppard

About endardoo

A newspaper sub-editor for many years, I am now a blogger and freelance sub-editor. Husband of one and house daddy of two: a feisty and dramatic 17-year-old girl and a bright, resilient football nut of a boy aged 16. My website:

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