It hasn’t been unknown for the GAA to outsource difficult decisions. There was a stage when referees were badgered about decisions they had made during matches, which looked incorrect.
Rather than simply cite someone on the grounds that a yellow card had been too leniently administered, the CCCC used to ask match officials to confess their errors – like the accused in some totalitarian show trial.
Referees came to dread the email dropping with its video clip and what was felt to be an implicit command to suspend a player on their laptop.
Instead of assuming a citing function, however, the GAA simply dispensed with the power to review these decisions, thus turning yellow cards into an indemnity rather than sanction or deterrent.
This week’s situation is, however, more complicated. Since Sunday’s All-Ireland club football final concluded in controversy with 16 Kilmacud players on the field, as Glen’s Danny Tallon took the dying-seconds 45-metre kick, there have been accusations that the GAA is dodging the hard decision as to whether a rematch should be ordered.
Glen, having been made aware “that potentially a rule was broken”, asked Croke Park to clarify the matter. The response was that the situation would be adjudicated should the club wish to object to the result.
By Monday night the “potentially” had been dropped and the club statement restated that they had sought “clarification from the GAA on the breach of rules” and registered disappointment that this request form a review had been declined in the absence of “an official objection”.
According to the Official Guide, Rule 6.44 there were two options – either to impose a penalty on Kilmacud “on a proven objection” or “on an inquiry by the committee in charge”.
It could be asked what an inquiry might achieve given that clear breach of match regulations was evident from the television coverage. In other words, the facts are agreed.
Anyway, for whatever reason the CCCC took the view that an inquiry would not be appropriate for an incident of this nature and that such cases usually rely on an objection but it would have been within the committee’s competence to do it themselves.
What sport in the world provides for adjustment of outcome on the basis of refereeing error? Sunday was different, a breach of match regulation, specifically referred to as grounds for objection or inquiry.
In one of the approximate precedents on the fielding of too many players – the qualifier match between Laois and Armagh in 2016, in which Laois used an additional unauthorised replacement – CCCC simply proposed a penalty of a replay, which the county accepted.
Other incidents from the past have less persuasive value. When Meath beat Louth in the now notorious 2010 Leinster final thanks to a completely invalid “goal”, the only way out was for the winners to offer a rematch, which never happened.
There was widespread condemnation of the authorities for failing “to provide leadership” as if it were possible to do anything about a match that had concluded on a decisive scoreline, no matter how erroneously arrived at.
What sport in the world provides for adjustment of outcome on the basis of refereeing error?
Sunday was different, a breach of match regulation, specifically referred to as grounds for objection or inquiry.
There are some semantics about the current situation. It is understandable that Glen don’t want the pressure of having to “object”. The phraseology is aggressive and the club may be uncomfortable at the possibility of being perceived as bad losers.
Yet, essentially, they have objected by communicating their concerns about “breach of rules”. Should they be made to spell it out even after submitting two statements querying the outcome?
You suspect there is a hope, however forlorn at this stage, that an official objection may not arise.
The competing views of the final’s fraught closing stages each have merit even if they come from different perspectives. Glen have every right to look for a second chance. They broke no rules and had their last chance complicated by an unauthorised player standing on the goal line. It was said even their request to have the 45 retaken fell on deaf ears.
An interesting digression is what would have happened had Kilmacud conceded a goal from the 45? In 2021, Mayo missed a 45 to level the All-Ireland semi-final but on discovery that they inadvertently had 16 players on the field, were allowed another chance, which Rob Hennelly converted.
There is though a valid opinion that although the referee was within his rights on that occasion, he would equally have been entitled to say Mayo could not rely on their own breach of regulation for advantage.
The choice of fine, forfeiture or replay is according to 6.44 be decided “depending on the circumstances”. The most influential circumstance was the two points between the teams, 1-11 to 1-9, a difference of just one score. Who could say for certain what impact Dara Mullin’s presence on the line might have had on the play that unfolded in the closing seconds? Yet it could equally have been negligible.
If Glen have a legitimate claim to the rematch, there is also the immediate perspective of the team manager, Malachy O’Rourke, who afterwards said: “I can’t speak for the club but I just think we’ll accept we got beat on the day”.
Is there any room for the sporting concession that the better team won? O’Rourke may or may not regret his remarks but it would be a surprise if no one in the club agreed with them. Glen have been careful not to make a final decision on their intentions until closer to Wednesday’s deadline.
Sportsmanship cuts both ways and it was equally open to Kilmacud to offer a replay on the basis they had broken the rules and they too must be dismayed at how their “victory” has been submerged in controversy.
These are dilemmas no club wants.