talking point | 

Every time the GAA find a disciplinary system somebody discovers a loophole

Peter Duggan of Clare takes a sideline cut during the Munster final against Limerick.

Sean McGoldrick

In a previous life I used to cover District Court sittings in places like Sligo, Tubbercurry, Ballymote, Collooney, and Grange - all presided over by the austere Justice JH Barry. It was gruelling, but it was also a wonderful training ground for young journalists.

There were no room for errors; the consequences of getting a name or address wrong were far reaching because in those days everybody in the community read the local papers.

So, what has all that got to deal with sport?

Sport merely reflects what goes on in the wider community. Maybe it has something to do with our colonisation but as a society, we have a peculiar attitude to rules and regulations.

Going back to my days in the District Court, the most hotly-contested cases revolved around drink driving.

Virtually every case was challenged. The prosecuting Garda had to get into the witness box and cite a litany of rules and regulations he or she observed when they stopped the driver, performed the breath test, transported the driver to the Garda Station, instructed the driver to take a urine test or summoned a doctor to take a blood test.

In those days there were no random tests and I can still remember one key phrase from the Garda evidence… ‘I formed the opinion that the driver had consumed intoxicating liquor …

Every defence solicitor did their best to poke holes in the Garda evidence. There would be rows about the rural townland where the initial breath test was performed; how the urine or blood sample was divided; when it was posted to the laboratory. The list was endless.

The take-home message was: Contest every case because there was always the chance there had been a mis-step in the process and the charge would be dismissed.

It never mattered that the driver might have been five times over the limit.

Every time the GAA’s disciplinary system breaks down I’m reminded of the time I spent in stuffy courthouses listening to lawyers debating the finer points of dividing a urine sample into two separate jars.

The unwritten law in the GAA is that regardless of the guilt of a player, virtually every suspension ought to be challenged. There is always a chance that the Central Competition Control Committee – who propose the bans – has messed up.

So far it hasn’t been a good year for the CCCC in terms of their bans sticking.

Armagh succeeded in having match bans imposed on Rian O’Neill, Stefan Campbell and Aidan Nugent lifted earlier this spring ahead of the team’s Ulster championship tie against Donegal.

Ironically, Donegal opted not to appeal against the bans imposed on Neil McGee and Odhran McFadden-Ferry for their involvement in the same melee. In the event Donegal won the game – though Armagh got their revenge last Sunday.

Late on Wednesday night, Clare hurlers Peter Duggan and Rory Hayes, together with Galway’s Cianan Fahy, had their proposed suspensions quashed by the Central Hearings Committee on a technicality.

It is understood the cases fell because Galway argued successfully that the CCCC meeting at which the suspensions were proposed was not properly constituted because it was held on-line rather than in person.

The case was slightly complicated because none of the three had been sanctioned by the match referee.

In the case of Duggan and Hayes their one-match bans were proposed based on video evidence arising out of incidents in the Munster final against Limerick.

In Fahy’s case he faced a two-match ban for an alleged stamp on Kilkenny captain Richie Reid during the Leinster final which was caught by the TV cameras.

All three incidents were highlighted on the Sunday Game; the fact that one of the panellists was former Limerick player Shane Dowling did not go down well in Clare to put it mildly.

Now, the trio are free to play in Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-finals and the GAA’s disciplinary system is again in the dock.

Every time the GAA appear to have finally produced a water-tight disciplinary system somebody discovers a new loophole and the authorities are left with a lot of egg on their face.

Sadly, the act of launching challenges on behalf of players who clearly have transgressed the rules is rarely questioned. The ‘win-at-all-cost’ mentality prevails.

It is interesting that the current controversy involves three hurlers. Hurling refereeing is in crisis because nearly everybody involved in the game prefers what could be described as ‘light touch’ refereeing.

What ‘light touch’ refereeing actually means is that most fouls are ignored. Instead referees - as John Keenan did in the Munster final - allows the play to flow. It produces compelling matches but at what cost?

Players are human. Once they see referees ignoring blatant fouls they are more inclined to take chances and cross the thin dividing line between being aggressive within the rules or going over the top.

But the GAA’s failure to devise a legally robust disciplinary system is rooted in the psyche of Irish society.

We do the crime - but we hate doing the time.

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