GAA should have a citing system similar to rugby


On Gaelic Games:Video evidence remains a valid tool in the GAA’s campaign against indiscipline but referees shouldn’t have to review their own decisions

IT WAS the incident that in the eyes of most people marked the beginning of the end for Ireland last Saturday. Prop Cian Healy committed a professional foul on French scrum half Morgan Parra. English referee Wayne Barnes saw it clearly enough to walk up and flash a yellow card immediately. Healy walked straight to the sin bin leaving his team-mates to reap the whirlwind.

What slim chance they had of avoiding that fate ended when Jerry Flannery launched a spectacular foul on an opponent and a promising penalty was reversed.

A friend primarily interested in Gaelic games texted me to note how clockwork the whole process was: foul, punishment and acceptance. It’s not always like that even in rugby – and the game has had recent issues with consistency of suspension policy – but, by and large, authority is accepted and responsibility taken for indiscipline.

From a disciplinary perspective, the more important aspect of rugby is that crime doesn’t pay. Indiscipline will cost your team. Sides cling on grimly during the period when a player is sin binned but in general they concede scores. Players get cited for misbehaviour and pick up suspensions.

It didn’t take long for such musings to acquire further topical edge. Tyrone lined out the following day against Mayo and their fate, a one-point defeat, was contributed to by the absence of three players, Martin Penrose, Justin McMahon and Conor Gormley, all of whom had been suspended after referee Pat McEnaney had revised his original opinion of their foul play after viewing video evidence of the Tyrone-Derry NFL match.

On Saturday night Eoin Bradley had suffered a similar fate as a result of the same process and wasn’t able to play when his county lost to Dublin.

The grumbling wasn’t long building into a tumult of indignation and the old chestnut of ‘trial by media’ has been much displayed in the public arena in the past couple of days. It’s not fair, the argument runs, that players in televised matches aren’t allowed to foul without consequences once they can do so behind the referee’s back.

It has been no surprise that Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has been to the forefront of this. His problems with television evidence have been well-aired.

Extraordinarily, neither Harte nor Derry manager Damian Cassidy have made any bones about the facts of the matter. All four players initially opted for hearings after the suspensions were proposed but, despite the apparatus of the Central Hearings Committee having been assembled in time to expedite the process, the requests were all dropped on the Saturday and the bans accepted.

Is it reasonable to argue that teams on camera are being discriminated against in comparison to players in matches with less box-office appeal? Only to the extent that robbers arrested because a shop has CCTV might launch a defence on the grounds that other premises without such protection were robbed with impunity. Or that it’s unfair on drunken drivers that someone equally inebriated drove home on a different road without hindrance because there was no police check in that direction.

And if someone fond of driving home over the limit lived at the end of a road where there were frequent checks wouldn’t they modify their behaviour rather than complain that the police presence was unfair?

These comparisons aren’t intended to draw equivalence between violent crimes or drink driving and indiscipline in Gaelic games but simply to address the argument that failure to punish every wrongdoing shouldn’t mean that all miscreants escape without sanction.

Whenever human arbitration is involved there will be mistakes. Even without error there will be incidents that a referee can’t be expected to see. Should the failure for whatever reason by a referee to punish adequately a red-card offence in a Division Four match invalidate correct imposition of the rules in a Division One fixture that happens to be on television?

The crisis of indiscipline clearly demands that all instances be dealt with and, if some of that corrective action follows on from video evidence, it’s hard to see the problem.

Perhaps Harte’s point of view is partly based on his not believing indiscipline to be that big a problem. A year ago during the experimental disciplinary rules trial, the Tyrone manager spoke out against the rationale behind the proposals.

“You’d think that the GAA, and football in particular, was in total crisis, a discipline crisis,” he said. “There is so much talk about the rules, and indiscipline, almost as if it’s anarchy out there. It’s not true. There are certain incidents that have to be dealt with and always will be, but 95 per cent of what we’re doing is positive, is great to see.”

Yet the association at large appears to have a different view. Last year’s congress might not have passed the experimental rules but the mood of concern about cynical play and indiscipline was such that the proposals were overwhelmingly approved, 177-100 or 63.8 per cent, just short of the two-thirds majority required for adoption.

Does this mean that all is well within the GAA’s disciplinary structures? No it doesn’t. Referees still struggle to attain a level of consistency on the field and frequently bottle hard decisions.

An unfair pressure on them is the subject of a motion for this year’s congress. Recently retired intercounty referee John Bannon’s club, Legan Sarsfields, has proposed a motion bringing to an end the system of referees reviewing video evidence and recategorising offences.

Bannon was involved at the sharp end of this when in his last match he failed to red card Cork’s John Miskella during last August’s All-Ireland semi-final. Disappointingly, for a referee who had always dealt firmly with foul play, he then declined to review that decision but his club’s argument for congress is a sensible one and perhaps sheds some light on his decision of six months ago.

It simply argues that it isn’t the place of a referee to review his decision – not that video evidence is wrong or that referees shouldn’t be overruled. The procedure has always been ridiculous and was cooked up on the spurious grounds that referees shouldn’t be overruled by committee.

Instead they have simply been forced to overrule themselves and there have been complaints that if they don’t do so, their match allocation suffers. It’s hard to see what the problem is with such a consequence. If referees wilfully refuse to do their job they shouldn’t be asked to take important matches.

But the fact remains that, like rugby, the GAA should have a citing system and in the Central Competitions Control Committee they have the ideal body to fulfil that role. Instead of asking the referee to finger a miscreant on foot of video evidence, the CCCC should simply do it themselves, propose a suspension and prosecute the case if the player in question requests a hearing.

Such a reform wouldn’t prevent the squealing over video evidence but it would put the process on a more solid foundation?