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The psychology of the GAA Barbarian

by Paddy Power Admin | July 25, 2013


Kerry footballer Paul Galvin writes for the Paddy Power Blog…

I wrote recently on my website about the neon trend that has infiltrated the GAA landscape, on the sleeves of apparel, the soles of boots and the sleeves of training equipment. This will have been noticeable to some, and not to others. It definitely wasn’t noticed by a certain strain of GAA patron: The GAA Barbarian.

Therein lies important information, crucial to raising awareness of the spread of barbarian behaviour amongst GAA patrons this summer. What you are about to read is a forensic psychological profile of the match-going, lesser-known GAA Barbarian.

All material and opinion published here has been informed by the experiences of myself and others, (stewards, medics, women, children, linesmen, fourth officials, members of the Artane Boys Band, and other patrons of the GAA).

All have years of experience in observing the habits, behaviours, and characteristics of the subject, as well as medical journals and sociological studies carried out on individuals who have presented classic barbarian behavioural tendencies. They have been psychologically profiled, and as such have been categorised as GAA Barbarians.

Neon in the GAA as modelled by Paul Galvin

COLOUR ME BAD: Mr Galvin models the big trend in the GAA this summer, neon


As the GAA Championships reach a climactic crescendo in August, laboratory conditions are optimal for this beast, the GAA Barbarian, to flourish, even more so with the recent heatwave. However, if there is one thing a GAA Barbarian does not enjoy, it is a heatwave.

Boiling heat creates external factors which can distress an already-strained barbarian. The increase in temperature leads to excess consumption of alcohol which, in turn, leads to heavier perspiration.

The knock-on effect of all this for the GAA Barbarian is more physical discomfort, by way of sweaty back and underpants, tickly crack, anal itch, early on-set winegall, sunburn and impaired vision, as well the mental turmoil and discomfiture of underarm sweat patches, galloping BO, and having to wear Sudocrem on your face in public.

These external factors, combined with an inherent tendency towards barbarian behaviour anyway, place even more pressure on the individual’s thought-processes and leads to even poorer decision-making. Subsequent actions can be extreme and unpredictable.

This summer, barbarian behaviour is more prevalent than ever.

A note of warning at this point…

We have seen evidence of quasi-barbarian behaviour recently and must be careful not to jump to wrong conclusions. Recent incidents have seen people being wrongly identified and labelled by members of the media. One incident saw an official enter a melee on the playing field, then exit the melee, before re-entering the melee once more in an attempt to separate the warring parties. Classic-case quasi-barbarian behaviour which must be recognised.

Stewards at county grounds all over Ireland are asked to be extra vigilant this summer following an increase in reported cases coinciding with the recent heatwave.

Tempers flare at Wexford Park

SEEING RED: Tempers flare at Wexford Park but know your Barbarian from your average GAA fan

Primary colours…

Let’s start with a question. What has the neon trend in the GAA apparel got to do with any of this?

Allow me to explain. I have stated the word ‘neon’ does not exist in the vocabulary of the GAA barbarian for he is far too primal a beast to recognise such a hue. Case in point: you will never hear a barbarian shout: ‘WILL YA LOOK AT THE (EXPLETIVE) IN THE NEON BOOTS!’

Why? Research has shown that the GAA barbarian was born with visual cone cells that only transmit primary colours, or some combinations thereof, to the visual cortex (that part of the human brain which processes light passing through the retina and deciphers colour). Therefore he only recognises shades of red, blue, yellow and in some cases green – a combination of primary colours.

Neon colours will never be recognisable.

Primary instincts…

Initial symptoms exhibited by the GAA Barbarian begin with sullen quietness on approach to a game. For example, in the car or in the pub before entering the ground. This is commonly regarded as Stage 1 of 3 in terms of the behavioural cues which point towards barbarianism. Silent, non-threatening, distracted behaviour associated with short-term social detachment.

Upon entering the ground repetitive actions are indicative of a progression to stage 2 of the condition. Stage 2 (this remains non-verbal, though audible) will normally coincide with the ball being thrown in. The most reliable symptom of this stage would be the rolling of the match-day programme into a tiny cylindrical baton.

Psychologists across a variety of disciplines agree this habit is linked to feelings of suppressed aggression. The programme is rolled tightly like a baton as the barbarian subconsciously arms himself with a weapon with which he innately wants to wield upon opposing players like a soldier preparing for battle.

GAA fan

Agitated expressions…

Repetitive actions like this (rolling and unrolling the programme) and leaning aggressively into the person in the next seat as physical exchanges occur on the actual playing field are almost always a precursor to agitated facial expressions and unintelligible mumblings about the proceedings.

Random roaring at various intervals (often synchronised with the impact of a big hit on an opposition player) signal the imminent onset of stage 3.

The final stage is the verbal stage and usually centres around a particular individual on the field upon whom the GAA barbarian will focus much of his attention. Often this individual will be wearing boots that the barbarian perceives to be red. The verbal stage can vary in degrees of intensity, offensiveness and unfairness and again like the non-verbal stage it is characterised by repetitive, irrational outbursts that bear no relation to what is real or sane for others in the gallery.

To bring you back to my initial point such an outburst is often likely to refer the colour boots a certain player might be wearing. The outburst may be something like, ‘WILL SOMEONE FLATTEN THAT LITTLE (EXPLETIVE) IN THE RED BOOTS!

(Overuse of the c-word by way of abuse is often a symptom of barbarianism also though it is not common enough to be regarded as a medical symptom as their voc-abuse-lary is extensive.) It has been found that in 98 per cent of cases the boots will not, in fact, be red at all but neon-orange or pink and even at that may only have splashes of red, orange or pink. Such statements are the final hallmark of the GAA Barbarian, which is the inability to decipher any colours other than primary colours. They only see red during competition. Hence the saying, “He sees red.”

Paul Galvin, Kerry

NEON STUD:  A favoured target of the GAA barbarian, Mr Paul Galvin (pic: Inpho)

Symptoms of the recognition of the other primary colours, (or combinations thereof) green and blue, are very often displayed in the aftermath – particularly if the barbarians’ team has lost. Green manifests itself in the immediate aftermath by way of aggressive blaming, finger pointing, discrediting of opposition and heavy alcohol consumption, suggestive of feelings of envy and jealousy. The colour blue manifests in the later aftermath by way of sudden bouts head-hanging, deep-sighing, and general moroseness at having lost, coupled with having embarrassed the wife/girlfriend/family publicly.

In short, symptoms associated with feeling blue.

High emotion in the late aftermath is not uncommon in the GAA barbarian as he seeks solace in the arms of the same wife/girlfriend who he let down so badly earlier in the day. If sufficient respite from the inner angst and turmoil is not forthcoming (and research shows that this is often the case), the GAA barbarian will turn to fellow barbarians for support.

Hours are spent amongst the herd repeating the same aggressive phrases, plaintive questions, and wistful refrains over and over again.


  • ‘That ref was a complete (expletive) joke’
  • ‘That shoulda been a (expletive) red card!’
  • ‘Lads, I don’t give a (expletive) that man is not a full back and don’t try and tell me he is for (expletive) sake’
  • ‘(Expletive) off lads and don’t give me that (expletive)’


  • ‘What the (expletive) were those (expletive expletive) on the line at?’
  • ‘Why didn’t someone pave the little (expletive) in the red boots, like I said’


  • ‘Yerra how bad’

In extreme cases (and this applies in only about 7 per cent of known cases) when no requisite solace can be found, the GAA barbarian will seek to soothe his own feelings and justify his own actions to himself by latching onto the behaviour of others in the group in an attempt to worsen them thus casting himself in a better light.

Often those he targets will either be much younger or much older – and generally much quieter. Rhetorical questions like, “Jesus, herself must be raging with you after that, is she?” are common and repeated refrains referring to domestic disquiet would be typical also.

“I hope Shep has a double-bed in the dog-house, Jim?.”

Rhetoric is major part of a barbarians’ arsenal and is used to undermine those around him who he deems to be vulnerable.

Statements discrediting friends or acquaintances in the group would also be in keeping with this acute stage of withdrawal. Often these statements are exaggerated and inaccurate. A common example would be, “Jesus, you made a fair (expletive) of yourself above in the stands tonight, ha!!”

Lies and denial

Often the person in question will not have been in his vicinity or even in attendance at the match. Lies and denial of actual fact would be second nature to the GAA barbarian in late aftermath of competition as he struggles to come to terms with himself. This often correlates to level of alcohol consumption. Heavy sobbing can also occur during this late stage depending on the level of hostility being shown by the wife/girlfriend.

These projective techniques are generally accepted by psychologists in the field as an attempt to purge himself of the feelings of guilt, sorrow and embarrassment that rage inside his often-hirsute frame.

So this summer, wherever you go, beware. You know not from where a GAA Barbarian will spring. We know not what causes a GAA Barbarian to rear its head. We must always be prepared. All we can do is recognise the signs. Look out for the tell-tale early symptoms. Protect yourself and others.

Here’s a guide on how to spot one…


1. The non-verbal stage characterised by long spells of silence, distraction and detachment. Look for signs of this in the car on the way to the game, in the pub beforehand and certainly in and around the turnstiles. Turnstiles are known to be a trigger for barbarians in some cases. The enclosed space (more so the attention this draws to any excess body weight the barbarian is carrying),  occasional faulty turnstiles, the loud clacking noise, the cost of entry, the painful parting of cold, hard cash, all combine to rile an already pressurised barbarian. Though the condition is not fully understood it is thought that excited females readying themselves for the day out also act as triggers. Constant references to the game creates nervous tension within the GAA barbarian. “Oh my goddddddd we better wiiiiiiin now”, “d’ya think we’ll win?” and ‘We better or tonight’ ll be puuuuure shit” would be examples of such references.

2. Increased levels of agitation characterised by repetitive actions involving the hands or upper body. Body language grows more aggressive. Still non-verbal although unintelligible mumbling and sporadic bouts of roaring are symptomatic of later Stage 2. The onset of full-blown barbarian behaviour is nigh.

3. The verbal stage shows loud and aggressive behaviour often featuring abusive language aimed at other adults, mainly those on the field of play although can be directed at fellow patrons in the stands. The content of these verbal outbursts are usually irrational and have no connection with reality. “GIVE THE (EXPLETIVE) A RED !!!” shouted at the top of one’s voice at the referee for an innocuous foul by an opposition player would be a classic example of a barbarian in full primal mode. Irrationality and inability to recognise all colours outside of red during competition are hallmarks of the GAA barbarian.


Please go safely this Championship season and remember if you spot a GAA Barbarian or you suspect that someone you know may be displaying any of the symptoms please alert your nearest steward. Don’t suffer in silence.

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