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Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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What constitutes bad sportsmanship?

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Reed Mahoney - The Catholic Weekly
Reed Mahoney during pre-season training. Photo: Wikimedia commons.

Labelled a “pest,” “grub” and “menace,” Bulldogs hooker Reed Mahoney has made up for size with a loud voice and fiery temper, finding a way under opposition players’ skin enough times to get fans and media talking.

Now serious people are seriously talking too, like NRL head of elite competitions Graham Annesley.

Although he didn’t call out the playmaker by name, last week he identified some types of behaviour familiar to Mahoney’s style that might see a player spend time on the sidelines—running into melee’s, pushing and shoving, escalating heated situations.

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He also acknowledged to the Sydney Morning Herald being annoying isn’t a crime. So what does Mahoney fall under? Bad sport or annoyingly good at his job?

Last Saturday’s Warriors coach Andrew Webster certainly had no issues with his style, telling Fox League that Mahoney’s loud mouth was a reason for his team to exercise “discipline as is needed every week.”

“You can’t let it get to you and you’ve just got to get on with your next job,” he said.

If the enemy coach had no problem with Mahoney, and doesn’t feel there’s foul play going on, where’s the issue? Webster’s right: Mahoney is just another test players must work to overcome.

So what if he’s not everyone’s favourite?

Fans can hate him as much as they want but can’t deny Mahoney’s footballing prowess—a part of which is his cheeky sledging.

Reed Mahoney - The Catholic Weekly
Mahoney playing reserve grade for Magpies. Photo: Wikimedia commons.

His complete game is surely what this week has earned him a crucial Maroons call up for Brisbane’s Origin decider. Mahoney’s antagonism and blood-boiling antics are made for the biff and drama of NSW v QLD.

You might say I’m just defending my own team’s player. That’s not the case.

Even during Mahoney’s time as a windup merchant for the Eels I too hated coming up against him. He was a villain, but damn good at that role.

I’d have the same thing to say today if he remained in blue and gold.

Because while “win at all costs” should always be taken with a grain of salt, at the end of the day playing sport at this high level is about results.

To get those results, players know they’re walking out onto a mental battlefield as much as a physical one.

That means getting tough and gritty when push comes to shove. Things do get heated, players can get aggressive, and words (within reason) are thrown around when professional teams fight for the badge.

We can’t always force them into this perfect image of the ideal role model all the time. Because guess what? They’re not.

When a rookie takes to the field or a player goes off injured, it’s expected the opposition will target that advantage. Any choice not to would most definitely be confusing at the least.

If we’re to crucify Mahoney, couldn’t those examples also be classified as a form of bad sportsmanship?

If that’s the case and sporting advantage means nothing, let’s get rid of the scoreboard while we’re at it.

There’s no doubt players must get their words right. We’ve seen moments turn ugly in past with racial slurs and personal attacks. Things can easily go too far and all sense of respect can go out the window. Nobody wants that.

But when are we going to just let footy be footy?

That’s all fans want.

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