A few weeks ago Manchester City played Chelsea in a top of the table Premier League fixture. While the match itself was entertaining, what was unusual about the game was the brawl at the end of it.

Now, the particular skirmish of itself, was nothing exceptional, with barely a proper punch thrown. But what was so striking about the squabble was how incongruous it looked. Despite its sometimes tough reputation, Soccer is for the most part, a genteel sport, where any sort of ruction is frowned upon.

For instance, when analyst Gary Neville, watching on from his commentary position, failed to condemn what he was seeing, he was lambasted from all quarters. How could he do such a thing? Didn’t he know we really don’t want to see that sort of thing in our game? Except, of course, we actually do.

Whereas a mass melee looks out of place on a soccer pitch, on a GAA field it’s commonplace, if not expected. There’s a reason that Conor McGregor is the most popular sportsperson in this country, and I daresay it wouldn’t happen if he was World Chess Champion. People, particularly Irish ones, like to see other people beat each other up.

So in honour of our hard earned moniker as “the Fighting Irish” I decided to post a tribute to our finest GAA fights. For reasons of brevity (I do other things as well you know) I’ve only included clips from the senior inter-county championship, so Johnny Maher’s heroic vigilante performance for Loughrea in the Galway county final goes unrecognized. Funnily enough, none of the clips feature hurling. Is that because Hurling is merely a game for gentlemen? I hope not. Sort it out lads!

8. Donegal Armagh, 2014 All-Ireland Quarter Final

Unlike soccer, Ulster Gaelic football has never been known for its chivalrous nature. Maybe Donegal were seen as being somehow soft prior to Jim McGuinness’ tenure, but during his reign, there was never any fear of them backing down. Stick them in an All-Ireland quarter-final then, against the always combustible Armagh, and fireworks are almost automatically guaranteed.

While the pushing and shoving may have lasted 2 minutes, there was no player overly disturbed by the violence. The unlikely casualty, indeed, was Donegal team doctor Kevin Moran (0.20), who was unceremoniously thrown to the ground  by Armagh’s Aaron Findon. In Findon’s defence you could argue he was only attempting to dissuade Moran from encroaching on the field in future. I think he may have succeeded in doing so.


7. Wexford Longford, 2013 All-Ireland Qualifier

Not a game between two powerhouses, or one that even had the most awe-inspiring brawl, but certainly one of the funniest moments during one. When Longford played Wexford during the 2013 championship, a kerfuffle broke out just after full time. Dying to get involved in the action, Longford strength and conditioning coach David Hare beat a hasty path onto the field. But even in the mayhem of what ensued, Hare hadn’t completely taken leave of his senses. So just before he dived in get involved, he methodically removed the glasses from his head, before proceeding to fling himself into the action.

I’ve watched this video a few times, and more than anything else I’m left with a sense of confusion. I can understand to a certain extent why you may not want to get your glasses broken in a row. But if that is to be the case, why would you just fling them haphazardly across the pitch? Surely some short-sighted (pun intended) thinking on Hare’s behalf.


6. Armagh v Cavan, 2014 Ulster Football Championship

I guess, for a certain class of people, if you watch enough GAA Brawls, a certain amount of fatigue sets in. Sure, a bit of senseless violence is all fine and dandy, but can’t you give us something different? Credit to Cavan and Armagh then, for coming up with a new twist on the genre.

Up to 2014, the GAA parade was seen as an honourable, if somewhat dull pre-game tradition. But when Kieran McKeever and his Armagh team-mates innocuously stepped up behind the Cavan flag pre-game, they were, as the RTE reporter euphemistically described it, “asked to move”. Considering that in the ensuing 2 minutes, numerous punches were thrown and one player departed in a sling, it seems fair to say they could have been asked to move a little bit more politely.


5. Cork V Kerry, 1975 Munster Championship

Ok, so I guess this isn’t really a proper scrap. Compared to some of the other epics on this page, this is merely a short, perhaps even a vine. But the lack of quantity of punches in this clip, is more than compensated for by the quality.

Paidi O Se was a legend of Gaelic Football. Between winning 10 All-Irelands as player and manager, or leading Westmeath to their first ever Leinster senior title, he achieved everything there was to achieve in the game. But back in 1975, he was nothing more than a young, unknown right half back, trying to make his mark.

In this particular tie, Dinny Allen, a Cork forward whose career came to be defined by his rivalry with O’Se, was trying desperately to free himself of the Ventry man. Obviously bothered by the excess attention, he eventually decided to relieve himself of Paidi’s clutches by elbowing him in the face. Paidi however, not wanting to be seen as a shrinking violet, responded in kind by flooring poor Dinny with a monster of a left hook.

There’s so much to admire in this video. The two hits were obviously fantastic, but special mention has to be made too for the referee who, in the rush to intervene in the situation, fell spectacularly on his backside. And he didn’t even send Paidi off! Brilliant.


4. Kerry v Mayo, 2014 All-Ireland Semi Final

Any good GAA fight involving just players is worthy of attention, but things are really upped a notch, when fans are brought into the equation.

When Mayo lost the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry, they obviously weren’t happy. For any side with such a heart-breaking tradition to lose is one thing, but their ire was further stoked by the fact they felt hard done by a number of questionable refereeing decisions in the game.

So at 3 points down, when a brawl broke out during the latter stages of extra-time, you felt the Westerners weren’t just taking their rage out against Kerry, but the world at large. And it just so happened, that a large supporter of theirs, was willing to commit himself to their cause.

Castlebar’s finest, Mick Barrett, entered the pitch at 0.59 of this clip to, in his own words ask, “What the ref was at”. But when he was asked to leave, he decided he wasn’t going to go quietly. Instead, he was going to put up a fight. So much of a fight in fact, that it eventually took 5 stewards, and his pleading daughter, to escort him off the field. Was the year long ban for such an offence warranted? Yes. Was it worth it? For comedy reasons alone, absolutely.

3. Meath v Louth, 2010 Leinster Championship Final

When Louth were denied victory in the 2010 Leinster final, there was a lot of disappointment. The county had waited a long time for any sort of success in the game, and after Joe Sheridan’s pushover try snatched victory for the Royal County, there were going to be some recriminations. Now referee’s Martin Sludden’s performance was not his finest, but he certainly did not deserve the level of opprobrium and all out violence directed at him post-match.

So was it unjust that Louth lost that game? Of course. And is it wrong to try and assault a referee? Under all circumstances, yes. But if you take away the tragic element of Louth being unfairly denied their first Leinster title in 53 years, and the outrage of any official being violently attacked, what you have is a moment of pure comic gold.

While there are any number of humorous moments in the below clip, the starring role has to be given to the Louth fan who at 1.18, approaches the referee from behind, tries to level him with a shoulder, misses spectacularly and, in the process, almost falls over. If you can’t laugh at that…well I’m afraid our friendship isn’t going to work.

2. Laois v Louth, 1991 Leinster Championship

In any other year, a humble Leinster semi-final between Laois and Louth, two counties not known for their success, would be confined to the history books after a short time without any degree of fuss. But the 1991 game between the two sides took on a life of it’s own, not necessarily for anything that happened during the game, but for the classic brawl that happened at the end of it.

With Laois leading by 8 points, there was no question about the result as the game entered its final stages. But when Louth’s right half forward took umbrage with his opponent, it set the game up for a dramatic denouement. Hence we were privy to one of the best free for all’s in GAA history.

The star of the show here has to be the Louth sub who sprinted onto the field after 45 seconds, threw innumerable number of punches before nonchalantly running off half a minute later. Was the man solely on the panel for fighting purposes? If so, it was a spot well earned.

1. Meath v Mayo, 1996 All-Ireland final:

Since 1951, there have been innumerable reasons given as to why Mayo haven’t won an All-Ireland football final: Curses, Poor Management, the lack of a “Marquee Forward”, have all been offered up as theories on the Westerners interminable bad luck. Down somewhere on the list is the classic refrain of the decision of Pat McEnaney to send off Liam McHale, and absolve John McDermott of punishment, in the 1996 All-Ireland football final.

For me, the 1996 All-Ireland football final replay is the all-time classic, of the GAA bust up genre. Looking at the scrap again, there’s around 8 separate incidents where red cards could have been dealt out: Enda McManus elbowing Anthony Finnerty, Noel Connelly punching Trevor Giles, Jim McGuinness (the other one) doing an impersonation of Michael Flatley.

After 2 minutes of madness eventually calmed down, Pat McEnaney had made up his mind to send off the sides two midfield lynchpins John McDermott and Liam McHale. However, umpire Francie McMahon sidled up to the Castleblaney ref and uttered the immortal words: “Colin Coyle’s after dropping about 6 fellas, Pat. He has to go” And so he did. There are people who may say that Colm Coyle’s greatest moment came when he scored the equalising point in the original final. But to me at least, his finest moment came in the replay.

Mark Townsend, Sportstalk


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