IF IT wasn’t so serious the irony would be delicious. Two legal eagles shooting down a ban, which had been upheld by the GAA’s three main disciplinary arms, largely on the basis that an All-Ireland semi-final means more than most games.
As blindingly frustrating as it is, this quirk of fate won’t be lost on those in Croke Park. For years, referees seem to have felt the very same. In the 2000s, Brian Crowe and John Bannon refused to revisit decisions that could have forced Cork players out of All-Ireland finals. And former referees chief Pat McEnaney wanted a cumulative black card amnesty introduced so that players would avoid missing a September decider.
“The truth is that the law will demand a level of fair procedure which is sufficient in all circumstances to ensure justice for the player or member affected by the decision. The more serious the consequences the higher the standard that will be required,” were the lines the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) tribunal panellists Hugh O’Flaherty and David Nohilly quoted from a 2005 case as part of the reasoning for their decision to rescind Diarmuid Connolly’s one-match ban.
You might expect them to emphasise the value of consistency in procedure. Rather, they added: “In this instance, the consequence for the claimant (Connolly) was suspension from an All-Ireland semi-final (replay) match. This has to be construed as a serious sanction and therefore a higher standard is required of the disciplinary bodies in circumstances such as this.”
Because Connolly was playing at the business end of the championship, they ruled that more should have been done to ensure that proper procedure had been followed even though Connolly had not raised the complaint to the Central Hearings Committee (CHC) on which they threw out his suspension.
Not only did their decision lack consistency but it smacked of elitism. It’s something which their fellow tribunal panellist Brian Rennick touched on when he remarked in his dissent: “It [part of O’Flaherty and Nohilly’s reasoning] contemplates the calling of evidence from match officials and the referee because of what is at stake for the claimant, potentially missing an All-Ireland semi-final replay.
“I do not subscribe to that view as to do so would be to draw a clear distinction as and between those who play our games at a local level and those elite players who play at the highest level of inter-county competition.
“For any player to play in a county final or semi-final in whatever division or at whatever age level is just as important to that player as it is for an elite player to play at the highest level of inter-county competition. The club player deserves no less a standard in respect of the application of the rules and the principles of natural and constitutional justice.”
Connolly is again seemingly given preferential treatment in “the award” of the 43-page document where O’Flaherty and Nohilly basically state he has experienced too much of an ordeal for the case to be reverted to the CHC. “The tribunal is also cognisant of the fact that the claimant, in exercising his legal rights, has endured a late-night hearing before the CHC on Wednesday night (September 2), a late-night hearing before the CAC on Thursday night (September 3), a late-night hearing before the DRA on Friday night ( September 4), all before an All-Ireland semi-final replay match on Saturday afternoon (September 5). It would be unduly harsh and disproportionate to remit the matter back for further reprocessing in the circumstances.”
Rennick again finds fault with this, maintaining that special dispensation shouldn’t have been afforded to Connolly.
Arguing that the case demanded reprocessing by the CHC even at such a late juncture, he wrote: “The consequence of such a direction in a case such as this, is that the claimant having committed a Cat III infraction is unpunished. That in my view is an unjustifiable and undesirable precedent to set in the context of a disciplinary process.”
Rennick was outnumbered but in this scenario his is the voice of reason. The GAA don’t come out of it smelling of the proverbial either but it is still a fine mess that won’t be forgotten too quickly.
Philly McMahon didn’t do himself any favours trying to explain his actions in the closing stages on Sunday.
“It’s the heat of the battle,” he said on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland. “We’d like to say it’s part of our culture is humility and the same with the Kerry lads. What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch. We shook hands and that was the end of it. This is Gaelic football. We’re grown men, we play a physical sport and at the end of the day, the result is what ends it, we shake hands and get on with it.”
It is a remark consistent with the unsettling culture of omertà that has surrounded this excellent Dublin team. McMahon’s “what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch” seemed to be a dig at Aidan O’Shea who claimed McMahon head-butted him in the drawn semi-final.
After the biting allegations made against two Dublin players not to mention the violent fracas prior to the Armagh challenge match, it’s understandable that McMahon would like to keep things quiet but thankfully he can’t have it all his own way. Likely, just as he is deserving, to be named one of three Dublin players shortlisted for footballer of the year, if the GAA’s disciplinary authorities don’t consider what happened on Sunday it might be left to his peers, who pick the standout footballer of the season, to cast a verdict.
Over to you, Jarlath Burns. Championship concluded, get your electrode pads ready — it’s time to revive Gaelic football.
Last March, the head of the playing rules committee blasted the Dublin-Derry Division 1 game as the death of the game but, really, what was so different about it and Sunday’s All-Ireland final, arguably the worst decider in the last 20 years? Not all the spills, slip-ups and spoils on Sunday could be attributed to the incessant rain. The torrid conditions were more a contributory than a sole factor for all that was wrong with the match.
The match showed up not all that’s wrong with the game — the cynicism was surprisingly minimal given the conditions — but a large portion of it, namely time-keeping. Four additional minutes was hardly sufficient considering the substitution, free kick and kick-out stoppages. David Coldrick’s hands were tied to a certain extent but reviewing the game yesterday it was clear he could have done more with obvious time-wasting.
As John Bannon wrote in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, the GAA must at once address how game-time is recorded. The GAA foolishly hold onto the belief the clock/hooter is worse than what we have now but that shouldn’t stop them makes substitutions stoppages and penalising slow play. Burns has the power.
Gaelic football is in need of resuscitation
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