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The GAA disciplinary system is better than it was, but it’s still not fit for purpose

What needs to change to bring players into line
Scenes like this from last Sunday’s Armagh v Galway clash will keep happening unless there is a major shift in GAA thinking. Photo: Sportsfile

Scenes like this from last Sunday’s Armagh v Galway clash will keep happening unless there is a major shift in GAA thinking. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

The Oxford English dictionary defines the word leader as a person or thing that leads.

After the kind of week that the GAA has had its leaders need to lead.

I wouldn’t criticise the President Larry McCarthy or the Director General Tom Ryan for not commenting on the Croke Park fracas last Sunday.

Their silence is understandable. One wrong word uttered by either could result in the disciplinary case collapsing.

Anyway, we have gone beyond the point where words are sufficient.

The GAA disciplinary system is better than it was, but it is still nowhere near being fit for purpose.

It is bedevilled by hypocrisy, double standards and sloppiness. Worst of all, the penalties handed out are not sticking.

As long as players, managers and County Boards believe there is a reasonable chance they will get away with most indiscretions there will be ugly incidents.

This was the third fracas the Armagh football team have been involved in this season. The threat of sanctions hasn’t resulted in them mending their ways.

McCarthy and Ryan together with the backing of the Provincial Council chief executives, Michael Reynolds (Leinster), Kieran Leddy (Munster), John Prenty (Connacht) and Brian McAvoy (Ulster) have the moral authority and expertise to fix the disciplinary crisis.

We don’t need another committee.

What is needed is the moral courage to propose the kind of sweeping reform needed, have them adopted and then insist they are implemented to the letter of the law.

Players and managers will only abide by the rules when they know the punishment for breaking them is so certain that it is not worth the risk.

What McCarthy, Ryan, the provincial council chief executives and other Croke Park full-time staff dealing with the issue should do is to compile and publish a list of proposals in the form of motions to be discussed at a special Congress in mid-November.

Then we will see whether rank-and-file members are really interested in tackling this issue.

Is the GAA going to wait until some unfortunate player loses the sight of his eye, for example, before acting?

Here’s what needed:

1 Any attempt to make contact with an opponent’s eye becomes a specified offence punished with a three-year ban.

2 Any player who makes physical contact with an opponent (other than to exchange a handshake) before a game, during half time and after the final whistle until they enter their dressing room is faced with a minimum one-match ban.

3 A third player who joins a fracas involving two players is banned for two matches. Any other player who subsequently joins is banned for at least three games. Acting as the so-called ‘peace-maker’ is not admissible in terms of any defence.

4 In cases where three or more players from one county become involved in a fracas their county loses the right to host any home league games in the subsequent season.

5 Any player banned more than once in a calendar year loses his government stipend. It is donated to charity.

6 The GAA need to appoint two full-time Citing Commissioners (one for football and one for hurling).

7 Referees must submit their match report to the Citing Commissioner within one hour of the final whistle. Any referee who in the opinion of his assessor and or the Citing Commissioner has failed to deal with disciplinary issues during games is not eligible to officiate again until he undergoes further training.

8 The Commissioner reviews the referees report together with video evidence. He/she has the authority to review incidents already dealt with by the referee. The Commissioner proposes all suspensions which are communicated to the relevant counties by midday on Wednesday. They can either be accepted, or players/County Boards can request a hearing.

9 The Hearing Committee is made up of the four provincial council chief executives. Their findings of fact are binding on all parties. No appeals are allowed on procedures/technical issues.

10 Only the severity of the sentence can be appealed to the DRA.

11 For any repeat offences within a three-year period maximum bans are imposed.

12 County team managers/coaches/ selectors become designated County Board officials responsible for the behaviour of their team. In cases where three or more of their players are involved in a fracas the entire management team is banned from attending the team’s next competitive game. County Board officers take charge of the team in their absence.

13 At venues where there is one entrance/exit tunnel to the dressing rooms the participating teams must follow the match day schedule. Teams enter and leave the field at specific times. The penalty for breaching the rule is the loss of one home game in the subsequent National League.

14 County Boards automatically forfeit their annual team and player expenses subsidy from Croke Park (this was worth €134,203 to Armagh and €143,740 to Galway in 2019) if any member of their extended panel (including unused match day substitutes or back room team) have any physical contact with either an opponent or match official (other than a handshake) on match day.

15 Linesmen, the fourth official and the umpires have the power to inform the referee during breaks in play of cases of verbal abuse/sledging. The referee is obliged to black card the offender. Any player who receives two black cards for verbal abuse/sledging in a calendar year is banned for a minimum of two games.

Trust me, it would take a couple of seasons but if that 15-point plan was fully implemented the words disciplinary crisis in the GAA would never be heard of again.


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