GAA struggle to justify decisions not to punish high-profile offenders

Statistically better to get a red card later in the season rather than earlier

GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail and director general Páraic Duffy at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail and director general Páraic Duffy at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

It’s one of the established tropes of GAA annual reports so it was no surprise to see director general Páraic Duffy set about attempting to rectify what he believes are erroneous perceptions of both the organisation and various episodes to have affected it during the previous 12 months.

It is hard to argue with him on a number of these issues. Meaningful championship reform is one of the great will-o-the-wisps in Gaelic games. Nearly everyone’s in pursuit of it but so far it has escaped capture. That is because there is no clear consensus on what the organisation wants.

Despite Duffy’s spirited advocacy on behalf of the only reform to make it from Central Council to the Congress clár, the All-Ireland B competition or championship (as it would apparently be) still looks like a proposal that was sent forward because it would have been embarrassing not to have something to show for all the effort put in by those who formulated alternative blueprints.

Given that hostility to the concept is at its strongest amongst counties most affected, it would be peculiar were the apparently doomed motion to be passed as it would need to be forced on unwilling participants.

Also highlighted was the persistent demand that third-level competitions like the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon cups be played off before Christmas despite the varying first-term academic pressures in different colleges.

Setting straight

Both he and GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail were adamant that the strength of the association in the higher-education sector could not be overstated and shouldn’t become, like the clubs, another victim of the demands of the inter-county season.

Where the setting straight of the record was less convincing was on the subject that commanded many of the immediate headlines.

Second Captains

In the wake of Diarmuid Connolly’s successful visit to the DRA’s Midnight Court on the September weekend of the Mayo replay, there was an eruption of dissatisfaction about the GAA’s disciplinary structures. This was natural in the light of a valid red card for which no commensurate punishment was imposed.

At the time the GAA was livid – on two fronts. Unhappiness with an inexplicable decision was one but also there was extreme irritation that the public so widely failed to grasp that the DRA is an external body and as such not part of the association or a valid reason to attack it.

To be fair to members of the public however, they were simply responding to a player under GAA rule who had escaped punishment despite being in breach of those rules.

The frequently heard question of whether the disciplinary apparatus was ‘fit for purpose’ is severely rebuked by Duffy. If a rogue decision by the DRA was the only basis for the charge that would be fair comment. The problem is that it wasn’t just a single incident.

Duffy makes a good point in arguing that all tribunals will make mistakes from time to time and in that context he says it isn’t unusual to be surprised by decisions such as those like Mayo’s Kevin Keane similarly escaping punishment after a validly shown red card. There are impressive statistics.

“In the past five years (2011-2015),” states the report, “the CCCC has proposed 1,132 penalties arising from inter-county games. Arising from this, 146 players have sought hearings in order to challenge proposed penalties. In 50 instances, the proposed penalty has been overturned. Three cases have gone all the way to the DRA. In only one of those cases over the past five years – that of Diarmuid Connolly in 2015 – has the penalty been overturned.”

Yet when you focus on matches at the climax of the season there have been a litany of debatable decisions not to impose suspensions in what have been clear-cut cases in All-Ireland matches: Keane, Connolly, twice in the period under review, Lee Keegan from Mayo the year before, Tyrone’s Conor Gormley in 2013 all benefited from findings that make it statistically better to get a red card later in the season rather than earlier – or in other words to be one of the more prominent teams.

There have been suspensions handed down to those like Cillian O’Connor or Philip McMahon, who were playing their last matches of the season and wouldn’t serve suspensions until the following year.

Closed ranks

There can be quibbling over what’s fit for purpose and what isn’t and Duffy himself acknowledges that, despite progress, there are continuing difficulties in the disciplinary area.

At yesterday’s launch of his report he was strong in the condemnation of Dublin and Armagh who closed ranks in the wake of a serious assault on Dublin player Davy Byrne, adding that in the face of this omerta there had been no option but to impose fines – something he said he remembered having to do as ‘a last resort’ when chair of the Monaghan County Board.

On a more positive note he proposed that there should be more attention paid to promoting consistency and a corporate memory on the GAA’s disciplinary committees – by retaining at least two members when new committees are established.

As highlighted it’s been a difficult year for high-profile discipline in the GAA but improvements can be made.

smoran@irishtimes.com

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