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Melees, Shenanigans & Schmozzles: Defining & ranking GAA fisticuffs

Let’s separate our melees, from our schmozzles, from our outright brawls.

The motions for the 2018 GAA Congress have been announced and one motion has caught everyon’e attention. How many players quantify a melee? The motion puts forward a minimum of five.

But we believe the motion is missing a certain factor: the intensity of the skirmish. GAA clashes should be defined by both the number of people involved, and the level of intensity players are inflicting. An intense clash between two or three players is basically a fight. Five players can be clashing, but it may be harmless shenanigans. A melee should be more intense, and have more people involved.

So we’ve taken a range of vaguely defined GAA fisticuffs and tried to rank them, giving them a true definition which GAA circles should adhere to, from good old fashioned shoulder welcomes to all out brawls.

There’s two categories: number of players involved. This is hard to gauge, because two people can start a melee but many more must get involved. That’s where the Intensity Rating comes in – this will separate your schmozzles, from your melees, from your handbags.

Shoulder Welcome

The tamest form of a clash between opposing players. This should only involve two players, one of which having just come onto the field as a substitute. This may last any time between three and ten seconds, but once the ball is back into action everything is forgotten about and the focus is entirely on the play.

The shoulder welcome, albeit somewhat enjoyable to the spectating crowd and is almost always captured by the tv cameras, usually serves no purpose or marginal gain on the field of play, but purely an establishment of strength and manliness over opposite marksmen.

In very rare cases, this could extend into handbags or shenanigans further down the line, or if more than two players gets involved. We’ll let congress decide how many players may partake in a traditional shoulder welcome, but in our eyes – two is the absolutely max, and any more is a tarnishment of the legendary shoulder welcome.

The term was brought into by modern culture by the Second Captains boys, who had this hilarious bit on their TV show a little while back.

Player Count: 2
Intensity Rating: 1/10


Handbags, usually after a free has been awarded or the ball has dribbled over the line for a line-ball. This usually involves one player who has taken grave offence to the referee’s decision, and lets the opposing player know about it, while nearby players jog in to provide some reinforcements should further shenanigans break out.

Beginning with a glare at the player and/or referee, the instigator may throw an unnecessary shoulder or often times a light butt of the hurley into the side. This would grant permission for the third and fourth players to arrive in and throw some more unnecessary shoulders, but due to the close proximity of the referee and the linesman the heat never exceeds beyond lukewarm, and play quickly recommences. No cards should be dished out after some handbags.

Player Count: 2-4
Intensity Rating: 3/10


Shenanigans are an enhancement of handbags, usually surfacing after a similar situation has arisen and despite the officials’ best intentions, more players arrive into the immediate area and get involved. Shenanigans, however, rarely extend beyond mouthy words, a dose of slagging, and shouldering, and the majority of players on the field take little heed. In these situations, keep an eye out for the driven shoulder, which involves eyeing up your opponent and driving low and hard into the shoulder. This may instigate a schmozzle.

Shenanigans really shouldn’t warrant any bookings, but depending on the situation might often lead to a thrown-in ball to recommence play. Don’t forget to look to your neighbour in the stand, throw your eyes towards the sky and say “shenanigans” after one has occurred.

Player Count: 4-8
Intensity Rating: 4/10


This is where things begin to get a bit fuddled. One man’s schmozzle is another man’s melee, and vice versa. We’re defining a schmozzle as an instance whereby shenanigans (or in some cases even handbags) get heated and the shoulders, digging and throwing become more a little bit more intensified, to the point where cards may be dished out by the man in black. Some actions to keep an eye out for here are hands to the face and neck areas, or grabbing of the helmet in a non-dangerous, but threatening manner as if to say “I could, but I won’t.”

A schmozzle will often arise around an injured player, or player who has just been fouled. Another means of identifying a schmozzle over your run-of-the-mill shenanigans is if a player gets pushed over or felled during the skirmish. A schmozzle should more often than not lead to bookings for the two main instigators from either side, and perhaps lead to more schmozzles soon after or later in the match. But they never get beyond a 6/10 of intensity and play recommences fairly quickly.

Player Count: 8-12
Intensity Rating: 6/10


You know there’s a melee about to go down when there’s a sudden hiss of “oh shit” around the crowd and management, as opposing players run towards the centre of a skirmish. A melee can occur for a number of reasons. Two players flaking the crap out of each other is a common one, which attracts more players until there’s a cartoon dust-up of lads pushing and shoving. Melees can also arise from schmozzles getting much more intense, beyond a mere 6/10. One sign of a melee is lads sprinting to get involved and join in, bodies falling over and/or helmets flying. Management can sometimes get involved too, but usually to help break things up.

Melees can occur while the ball is in play, whereas a schmozzle is often times an extension of a stoppage for a foul, sideline or whatever. Melees can be two lads going at it at the other end of the field, and everybody joining in. But overall, a melee should be fairly intense and lead to more players getting involved.

This is our bone of contention with the GAA congress motion put forward: a minimum of five players doesn’t equate to a melee, but rather an Intensity Rating of 8/10 on the scale. A melee can be started by two players, but may only be described as such if more players get involved. If this stays between two players, as per Jason Forde and Davy Fitzgerald’s altercation last year, it’s mere handbags, or the very popular “getting to know each other”, which is something any good referee should be able to manage.

For us, a melee is the perfect word to define a load of lads throwing shoulders and digs and pushing and shoving at a somewhat intense level. Cards, and sometimes red cards, are going to follow after any good melee.

Player Count: 12-20
Intensity Rating: 8/10


This is where things get interesting, the cards are dished out and the intensity on the field and crowd reaches its peak. The Mayo v Meath 1996 All Ireland final. Tyrone and Dublin in the league back in 2004. Even, for some bizarre reason, Galway and Dublin in the Fenway Classic last year.

A brawl is ouright madness. There are lads chasing other lads, bodies flying, hurleys being flaked and punches thrown. A brawl is best defined when things get so bad, that mothers in the crowd are tutting and worried for the welfare of those involved.

There’s no control, least from the referees, and management would often get involved. A brawl is usually at the end of the game after the damage has been done on the scoreboard.

Player Count: 20+
Intensity Rating 10/10


A riot, the rarest form of GAA fisticuffs, involves spectators getting involved and, as such, the game getting abandoned. It’s so bad that there’s no time for red cards, and the referees just give up. Leave them at it, I’m going home.

A recent example is this club game between Douglas and Charleville last year, which impressively kicked-off while the match was still ongoing.

Huge bonus points if the spectators get involved.

Player Count: 30+, plus management/spectators
Intensity Rating: Match Abandoned


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