Former Offaly hurler Rory Hanniffy takes charge of DRA
Outgoing secretary Professor Jack Anderson is moving to the University of Melbourne
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly is red-carded by Joe McQuillan during the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Professor Jack Anderson: “Its basic job is to keep the GAA out of the High Court and it’s done that – done it very well.”
The Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) has had an unscheduled change of personnel that will sees former Offaly hurler Rory Hanniffy take over as secretary of the GAA’s independent arbitration body from the beginning of May.
Hanniffy, having hung up his head-guard for a barrister’s wig, practises on the Midland and Dublin circuits. He won underage Leinster titles with Offaly and All-Ireland club medals with Birr in 2002 and ’03 and is ideally suited to the post, according to his predecessor, legal academic Professor Jack Anderson.
“Rory knows the GAA inside out and has a slightly better hurling pedigree than me! He’ll be good for the job with the bit of publicity surrounding his appointment,” he told this newspaper.
Anderson is stepping down after two years, as he has been offered the role as head of the Sports Law department in the University of Melbourne. He has been working in Queen’s University Belfast and was last year appointed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Looking back on two years as chief administrator with the DRA, Anderson says that the body, established 12 years ago has been a success.
“Its basic job is to keep the GAA out of the High Court and it’s done that – done it very well. Legal costs are high but the DRA’s deposit is just €1,000 so it’s done a good service as a body set up as a reaction to injunctions that were taken in the early 2000s.”
He says that it goes about its business quietly and that most cases don’t attract headlines – the one exception being the hearing that lifted a suspension on Dublin footballer Diarmuid Connolly a matter of hours before the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final replay with Mayo which caused a lot of contention as the decision was widely criticised.
“In my two years we’ve had 40 cases and for the most part people wouldn’t have heard anything about them. Some were contentious enough but they were all dealt with pretty well. The big one was Diarmuid Connolly. It had a leading footballer with Dublin, a relatively last-minute case late into the championship season.
“While it was controversial in so many aspects, you appoint a panel and they make their decision and you stick by it. I think overall the DRA has done a good job.”
He believes the GAA disciplinary structures offer too many opportunities to challenge decisions.
“One thing I would say and I am on the record saying it: the GAA system has, you could argue, almost too many levels to it. In some ways it’s almost too player friendly and the temptation is if there’s another level to go to you’ll appeal and maybe along the way a technicality will arise. That happens.
“My big thing would be that given you can win a championship in five or six games I think there should be far more emphasis on on-field punishments in terms of maybe sin bins and getting the black card right.
“If you can win an All-Ireland in half a dozen matches and you have a key guy sent off the temptation is to use the whole process to try to get him off but if it’s dealt with on the day there’s no need to go through all of that.”
Nonetheless the experience within the GAA is that fewer suspensions and decision are being challenged. An important influence on that, Anderson believes is the performance of the association’s own committees and the calibre of individual in charge of them.
“The key to it is that there have been really good people on the CHC (Central Hearings Committee) and the CAC (Central Appeals Committee). Liam Keane has been excellent and also Matt Shaw; both of them were DRA secretaries themselves and there has been great consistency in the decisions made.”
He says that one of the main sources of case referrals to the DRA has been inter-club transfers and that increasingly in recent years he has tried to encourage compromise in such disputes.
“The GAA ethos is about your first club and loyalty but you have to find a way between the understandable concerns of the GAA and the understandable wishes of parents and children.”
Professor Anderson has also been active in trying to encourage former players to make themselves available as panellists for the DRA.
“Before Dessie Farrell [former Gaelic Players Association CEO] moved on we were looking at ways of involving the GPA in getting ex-players involved and hopefully that’s something Rory will be able to push on.”