We’re already counting down to the All-Ireland final on 17th September, just under three weeks from now. It’s our fourth final in six years and our third facing Dublin. We’re back up on the biggest stage of all in Gaelic football, once again aiming for glory.
The build-up to a final is a special time for supporters, a period to be savoured in its own right, as well as a spell in which it’s possible to dream all those dreams about what might follow if the result goes the right way on the big day. Regardless of what happens on the day – and, God knows, we’ve more than enough experience of the wrong kind in this regard – you never have to hand back all the fun and games involved in the build-up.
Last year was, though, different. Last year had an edge to it, a nasty, brooding malevolent mood. It started long before the drawn game and it went on well after the replay.
The battleground for all this hostility was, of course, online. It was all over social media and it was bloody ugly.
I didn’t engage much with it directly myself but I saw plenty of what was being said online, some of it spilling into the blog via comments that were swiftly dispatched to the bin.
Those weeks around last year’s final were also enough for me to call time on any active engagement with others via social media.
I’ve only ever posted links to blog posts on Facebook but I used to do a bit on Twitter. Not any more. To my mind, it’s simply not a fit-for-purpose platform in which to engage with the world. All I do there now is post links the same way as I do on Facebook.
It’s up to every individual – including, bewilderingly, the current occupant of the Oval Office – to decide for themselves how and to what end they use social media. I know and accept that many people enjoy the experience and that it enriches their lives. Good luck to them.
But I also know that some people like nothing better than to use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to attack, abuse, harass and denigrate others. The lack of any proper oversight means they can do so with impunity. It’s a big, bad world out there.
Sadly, it’s a world that has encroached into the space within which the GAA exists. Supporters still sit beside each other at matches but online the exchanges can often be anything but neighbourly.
In its early days, I was an enthusiastic advocate of Twitter and how it was possible to keep in touch with matches, no matter how arcane or local they were, regardless of your location on the planet. I still think this is one of the platform’s great strengths.
More recently, though, we’ve all seen its drawbacks. So-called GAA supporters trading semi-literate venom with each other. Soccer-style tribal vitriol being spat out across the ether. Reasonable discussions being hijacked by people whose only aim is to destroy debate, instead sowing rancour and hate.
As someone who has lived in the capital for decades and is involved in the GAA at grassroots level up here, what struck me from twelve months ago was the gulf that existed between the online and offline versions of the rivalry between the two counties contesting the final. It also convinced me about which space I was better off inhabiting. It’s a lesson I’m now following through on for this build-up twelve months on.
But, of course, I’m far from offline. I’d like to think, though, that the way the community operates on the blog – however imperfectly – shows that it’s at least possible for reasonable debate and interaction to occur online. It’s my hope that a mood of reasonableness will continue to prevail here over the coming few weeks.
In this regard, I’d like to make a special appeal to everyone to keep it clean when posting comments ahead of and following the final. I’ll sort the trolls at source – whose comments will, in any event, get caught in moderation – but the fewer insulting barbs posted here by our supporters, the less of this stuff I’ll have to deal with.
As regards use of social media more generally, that’s an individual decision everyone has to make. I guess what I would say is that nobody can escalate a row without involving another party. It takes two to tango.
So, my advice would be to enjoy the build-up to the full, celebrate the achievement of our wonderful team who keep coming back and who are, once more, aiming for glory. These are special days and they deserve to be savoured.
As supporters, we’ve been rightly praised for walking the road with them in such huge numbers. For all of us lucky enough to have done so it’s been an enormously positive experience. Let’s continue that positivity over the next few weeks as well.