September dawns and the GAA’s disciplinary system finds itself occupied in a month in which it is usually dormant.
For Diarmuid Connolly though, finding himself in a Croke Park boardroom at this time of year is not too unfamiliar. Four years ago, he was in the same situation as he is now: contesting a straight red card issued on the basis of a linesman’s account.
At the time, it was Rory Hickey who consulted with referee Maurice Deegan after Connolly had pushed Marty Boyle. The Donegal substitute made a five-course meal of the infraction but it wasn’t on that basis Connolly was reprieved. As Deegan failed to take his name, Dublin successfully argued to the Central Hearings Committee a technical error had occurred and therefore the proposed ban be rescinded.
Now it’s the turn of Cork’s Conor Lane. On Sunday, he brought to Joe McQuillan’s attention the ground scuffle between Connolly and Lee Keegan in injury-time. His word was good enough for McQuillan to issue Connolly a red and Keegan a yellow.
Keegan illegitimately prevented Connolly from advancing forward, seemingly bringing his marker to ground. However, there were no mitigating factors to explain Connolly’s excessive reaction.
In the 2009 All-Ireland hurling final, Tommy Walsh readjusted Benny Dunne’s helmet to disorientate him as a high ball came their way. That would now be a red card offence but nothing could justify Dunne’s subsequent strike on the Kilkenny defender.
Both McQuillan and Lane should be commended for making a big call. Too often in August have referees have shied away from taking decisions for fear that a player might lose out on an All-Ireland final. McQuillan took such an action having already awarded a free to Dublin, which might have earned them a duel with Kerry had Stephen Cluxton converted it.
Consistency has been screamed at referees for so long now but when it comes to semi-finals, all bets are off. The Football Review Committee, for all their good work, wanted an amnesty on one-match cumulative suspensions for three black cards or three double yellows for All-Ireland finals. Then referees chief Pat McEnaney said: “It’s such a big stage that you don’t want a fella missing the next game.” It was only when it was discovered the recommended caveat breached match-based suspensions it was dismissed.
The reluctance among referees to force players out of finals goes back to 2007 when Brian Crowe chose not to take the Central Competitions Control Committee’s (CCCC) advice and review an incident which would have likely meant Cork’s Noel O’Leary missing the All-Ireland final. He was hardly seen on the inter-county scene again.
In 2009, John Bannon of this parish elected not to upgrade a yellow card he showed to John Miskella to a red card, which too would have seen him sidelined for a final against Kerry. Bannon later argued successfully at Congress for referees to be taken out of retrospective disciplinary actions.
As a result of his motion, the CCCC now has direct power to recommend suspensions to players based on video evidence of incidents not seen by the referee. That ruling opened the possibility at least of Connolly being joined by others in the disciplinary process this week.
But it’s Connolly’s case which will be the prime focus for the CCCC and the CHC. After what transpired in 2011 but also recently in the case of Kevin Keane, the George Cartwright and Liam Keane-chaired committee should be making damn sure they have all their i’s dotted and t’s crossed.
It was the CHC minus two senior members including Meathman Keane who rescinded his namesake’s red card for striking Michael Murphy (Keane stepped out because referee David Gough also hails from Meath) but the CCCC know they have to make this one stuck.
The spotlight is further intensified by the flimsy, hiding-to-nothing proposed disrepute charge they handed to Tiernan McCann. Aside from the biting incident in the Donegal-Dublin league game two years ago, the two cases which have upset Croke Park officials most this last while have been Keane’s and Lee Keegan’s overturned red card at this same stage last year.
On the advice of another linesman, Cormac Reilly, Keegan was red carded by referee David Coldrick. However, as he was cited for striking with his foot when in fact he had actually attempted to strike Johnny Buckley, despite both carrying the same penalty, he was freed up to play in the replay.
On the back of Keegan’s case, the loophole was filled by a successful motion in Congress earlier this year. It gives the CHC the authority to alter an alleged infraction to a lesser one or a different one but is in the same category.
That means even if it is unproven that Connolly struck Keegan he could face another sanction.
The McCann and Keane case last month were embarrassing ones for the GAA’s disciplinary committees. For the sake of their authority, they can’t afford another slip-up especially in the wake of the most unpleasant game of Gaelic football witnessed in Croke Park these last 10 years.
Do yourself a favour and listen back to Paul Collins’ excellent and refreshing interview with Ciarán Kilkenny on Today FM’s Championship Sunday.
In the increasingly sterile no man’s land between the media and GAA teams, the exchange between Collins and Kilkenny is not just an exception but proves beyond doubt players have more than something to say when they are allowed to do so by managers and media handlers.
Kilkenny is an intelligent and engaging individual but, up until now, he hasn’t had much opportunity to express himself. But here he speaks about going to Mass the morning of games to be blessed by his local priest Fr Dan Joe O’Mahony, meeting up with the rest of the Dublin panel in the Gibson Hotel three hours before throw-in and listening to Enya and “a bit of boom boom” in the dressing room before games.
He also discusses his boxing training with Dublin’s performance and lifestyle coach, former world champion Bernard Dunne, as well as the envy he has for his friends who are J1s in America as he is at home “on the couch with the dog watching Home and Away”.
A podcast of the interview can be heard by logging onto www.todayfm.com/player/shows/Championship_Sunday
It is one of the quietest build-ups to an All-Ireland hurling final and that was in the making before the football semi-final replay hogged today’s column inches.
Yet whoever wins the final — and let’s hope somebody does this Sunday — there are strong claims to be made it would be among Kilkenny or Galway’s greatest achievements.
It’s generally accepted in Brian Cody’s time the 2011 and last year’s Liam MacCarthy successes were the sweetest, largely because they followed seasons where they had failed to lift the cup. However, were they to defend their crown, it would surely rank high if not highest, given how much Kilkenny have had to make do without this year.
At no stage have they had to endure a mass retirement as they did last winter.
JJ Delaney may have been the only starter in last year’s final replay to step aside but what they were robbed of when Tommy Walsh, Aidan Fogarty, Brian Hogan and David Herity were options with vast experience.
Galway have come from such a low base after the league, let alone these last two seasons, that Anthony Cunningham will be rightly heralded should he end the county’s 27-year wait for the ultimate piece of silverware.
He’s rode his luck with his full-back against Dublin and Tipperary this year but his transformation of this team has been quite remarkable.
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