Dublin footballer Connolly is facing the prospect of no football until August 26 after the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee proposed a 12-week suspension after an altercation with Branagan during Saturday’s Leinster SFC quarter-final win over Carlow.
Connolly put his hand on the shoulder of the linesman in protest at having been surrounded by three Carlow players as he retrieved the ball for a sideline signalled by Branagan in Dublin’s favour.
The ban, if upheld, will sideline the 29-year old until the evening before the second All-Ireland football semi-final. Were Dublin to reach the penultimate round as Leinster champions, this is the semi-final they would be involved in.
Connolly is expected to appeal the decision, as he did successfully when hit with a one-match ban following his sending off during the 2015 drawn All-Ireland semi-final, but efforts to contact the Dublin County Board last night to learn of their next move proved in vain. Their argument is likely to center on the fact that the incident was ignored by both Branagan and Hurson during the game as Connolly was not reprimanded by the Tyrone referee.
Joe Brolly, who recently represented Antrim footballer Matthew Fitzpatrick in having the latter’s 48-week ban quashed, believes a successful appeal is unlikely given his understanding referee Seán Hurson included the incident in his report.
“If you wanted to nail Diarmuid Connolly, it had to go in the referee’s report,” Brolly told RTÉ’s Game On yesterday evening.
“There must be serious question marks as to how it came to be in the referee’s report considering neither the referee nor the sideline official acted at the time. That is the problem here. Now, very conveniently, it shuts off the main avenue of defense. If it hadn’t been in the referee’s report, then because the official was aware of it but didn’t deal with it at the time with a card, it would have been virtually impossible for the CCCC to bring a charge against Connolly.
“That it is in the referee’s report means Diarmuid is in an extremely difficult situation. Unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary, the referee’s report is deemed to be correct. There is going to be suspicion as to how this came to be included in the report when both of them didn’t act on it at the time. Now, all of a sudden, there is a mysterious note in the referee’s report, as I understand it, which refers to a debrief where the official afterward tells the referee he has been pushed. That gets the CCCC out of an awful [legal] bind.
“I feel great sympathy for Diarmuid as he was being put to the pin of his collar by these boys, you could clearly see him raising his arms in the air to tell the officials, ‘I’m not getting involved in this’.
“They kept bumping him. It is an unfortunate situation for him. It is difficult to see how he can now defend it.”
Brolly cannot fathom why no action was taken on the field given the incident was later recorded in Hurson’s report.
“The most plausible theory is that the linesman, even though he knows that to touch an official is a red card, immediately decides that Connolly hasn’t crossed a line. The referee must have seen it and if he didn’t, the linesman ought to have brought it to his attention if he felt Connolly had crossed a line.
“I was looking at the reaction of the official when it happened. He didn’t react in any authoritarian way like a referee would if an offence had been committed. It seems he had taken the view there and then that Connolly hadn’t crossed the line.
“The TV makes it clear that he had touched him. The linesman had experienced it himself and he hasn’t acted at the time, which is the same as an adjudication because they have a margin of discretion and they can decide whether to act or not to act.
“There has to be zero tolerance for touching a referee or an official. And even though the contact was trivial, he did lay a hand on the linesman. It is extraordinary that if he took the view that Diarmuid crossed the line that he didn’t immediately speak to his referee. It is a mystery how it wasn’t dealt with on the field and then it turns up in the referee’s report.”
Connolly, the Dublin management team, and Board executive have until the end of the week to decide whether they accept the ban or seek to appear before the Central Hearings Committee.
If they were unsuccessful there, the case can be brought before the Central Appeals Committee.
Thereafter, the option of the Disputes Resolution Authority is open to them, the independent body that serves as the GAA’s final court of appeal.
Dublin’s next championship outing is a Leinster semi-final against either Offaly or Westmeath on June 25.