Dublin accept Dessie Farrell’s 12-week suspension

Prompt action in imposing penalty on manager struck down by GAA on basis of rule

Revised decision doesn’t make much difference to Dessie Farrell but his suspension now runs from the day of the management decision, Thursday, April 8th. File photograph: Inpho

Dublin have accepted the decision of the GAA Management Committee to confirm a 12-week suspension on senior team manager Dessie Farrell and strip the county of home advantage in a league match in respect of last week’s Covid-19 breaches in organising an unauthorised training session.

There was a twist in the tail of the decision though in that Dublin’s prompt action in imposing a penalty on their manager immediately was struck down on the basis of rule.

Croke Park’s Management Committee then reimposed the same suspension plus the loss of a home venue on Dublin.

The revised decision doesn’t make much difference to Farrell but his suspension now runs from the day of the management decision, Thursday, April 8th and will accordingly expire a week later in early July. Until the championship draw is made, it won’t be clear what Leinster fixtures, if any, the Dublin manager will miss.

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Due to the “behind closed doors” regulation, neither he nor any other suspended manager can attend matches, as only team officials are permitted into the venue.

This ruling will also have an impact on the latest controversy of this type – Monaghan manager Séamus McEnaney’s suspension for the county’s unauthorised training session in Corduff, details of which were recorded and sent to the authorities as well as to Croke Park.

Monaghan manager Séamus McEnaney was suspended for the county’s unauthorised training session in Corduff. File photograph: Inpho

Following Dublin’s lead, Monaghan suspended their manager for 12 weeks but the GAA’s management committee – which has had to appoint its third sub-committee to investigate Covid-19 breaches after Cork and Down in January and Dublin last week – will be striking down that suspension and assuming it reimposes its own next week, it will eat into the county’s Ulster championship schedules.

At Thursday’s launch of the GAA’s proposed revised calendar for the 2021 intercounty season, president Larry McCarthy was clearly unhappy about news of a fourth county breaking public health regulations as well as GAA rules and its possible impact on securing the go-ahead for this year’s club season.

“Any breaches are going to concern us in terms of talking to any of the authorities. I just reiterate, if the breaches occur, obviously there is a danger that they’ll have an impact on us in terms of permissions that are going to be given by the government. That’s the reality of it.”

The relevant section of the official guide, which was used to strike down Dublin’s suspension, covers The National Club Fixtures Oversight Committee, which was established in 2020 but not immediately activated, as lockdown happened soon afterwards. It is intended to protect club fixtures form the encroachment of intercounty activity.

“Rule 3.55 (b) It shall investigate and process matters related to the enforcement of rules on the scheduling and postponement of club fixtures, intercounty player availability to clubs, inter-county challenge and tournament games and closed periods/collective training.”

In other words, any breach of rules relating to the italics is a matter for the committee, which in this case has had its powers vested in Croke Park’s Management Committee as part of the Covid-19 emergency provisions.

Provincial championship

There have been expressions of concern about the effectiveness of the penalties imposed. Although the inability to attend training or even fixtures for 12 weeks is a sanction that bites to an extent, Farrell’s Dublin are unlikely to find themselves in trouble in the provincial championship.

The same isn’t true of McEnaney, whose team were eliminated in the Ulster preliminary round last year. As they took part at that early stage in 2020, Monaghan won’t be involved in this year’s first match, which buys their manager a bit of time.

The Cork and Down cases last January have cast a long shadow. The two managers, Ronan McCarthy and Paddy Tally, picked up 12- and eight-week suspensions although the former is still disputing his with a hearing before the GAA’s independent arbitration tribunal, the DRA, expected within the next week.

The two cases of Dublin and Monaghan, which have arisen in the meantime, are assumed to be guided by the outcome in both of the earlier episodes: a 12-week suspension at most plus loss of a home venue in the league.

The GAA’s thinking on this has been that to impose heavier penalties might not stand up to scrutiny if challenged.

Yet it’s hard to imagine that exemplary punishment could not stand up as a reasonable response to what happened. There was after all huge embarrassment caused in Dublin’s case by the breach taking place within hours of a statement from Croke Park. This laid out that the newly announced return to intercounty activity on April 19th could be jeopardised by illicit training sessions.

What if Monaghan isn’t the last of it? Government patience which has been Job-like over the past few days would be severely tested were further breaches to come to light.

In the circumstances the GAA may well have to come up with more severe deterrents. The next 10 days will be agonising.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times