GAA can still revise Dessie Farrell ban and consider other penalties

Indications are that none of the nine players involved in breach will be suspended

Dublin manager Dessie Farrell has been hit with a 12 week ban. File photograph: Inpho

Dublin manager Dessie Farrell has been hit with a 12 week ban. File photograph: Inpho

 

Dublin GAA’s dramatic announcement on Thursday evening that they were suspending manager Dessie Farrell for 12 weeks will go a long way to defusing the controversy caused by the county’s breach of Covid regulations in training at the Inisfails’ ground in north Dublin.

It is likely, however, that the association’s management committee will launch an investigation into the affair but indications are that none of the nine players involved will be suspended. Dublin though are probably going to be stripped of home advantage for one of their matches in the coming league season.

The reasoning behind this is that there are two precedents governing the situation, the suspensions handed down for similar gatherings in Cork and Down earlier this year.

The circumstances are not exactly the same in that Down players were permitted by public authorities to gather and Cork believed that they were although as later established, the ‘elite sport exemption’ had been withdrawn from intercounty panels.

Both were in contravention of the GAA rules, which forbade any collective training until January 15th, a date put back in the face of soaring coronavirus numbers that month and eventually suspended sine die, pending the return of the elite exemption, which effectively took place earlier this week.

Dublin were however on notice that any non-essential congregation is not allowed under public health directives and also that Croke Park had issued a communique on Tuesday night warning that a failure to heed rules on training sessions before the scheduled return of April 19th, would be both punished and also place that return in jeopardy.

The tone for the day was set by a GAA statement on Thursday morning, expressing “frustration and extreme disappointment” at the revelations in that morning’s Irish Independent that the session had taken place with a number of well-known players present, including Footballer of the Year Brian Fenton, former All Stars Jonny Cooper and Brian Howard and Cormac Costello.

Manager Dessie Farrell wasn’t there but the proceedings were sufficiently official or semi-official for it to be either on his authority or simply his responsibility. A statement from the Dublin management committee followed later in the day:

“Dublin GAA acknowledge that, following an investigation this afternoon, there was a breach of Covid-19 guidelines yesterday morning. The county management committee have suspended Dublin senior football manager Dessie Farrell for 12 weeks with immediate effect.

“The Dublin senior football management and players recognise that this was a serious error of judgement and apologise unreservedly for their actions.”

Croke Park sources were relieved that Dublin acted so swiftly on the matter, as it has been frequently lamented that the GAA centrally is too often expected to pick up the slack on disciplinary matters simply because counties refuse to do so.

Surprise

The news of Farrell’s suspension was a surprise to the authorities because of the precedent that has seen Dublin tend to dispute penalties to the bitter end. But it was a pleasant surprise.

It is in Dublin’s interest though to have acted decisively. Suspensions run from the time of imposition and Farrell’s will be up at the end of June, by which stage the championship will still be in its early stages.

In his absence, selector and long-time associate of Farrell, Mick Galvin, a member of the 1995 All-Ireland winning team, will assume team responsibilities.

It will still be open to the GAA to revise the ban and consider other penalties but that is considered unlikely. There will be an investigation by a sub-committee of the management committee, as provided in rule.

This stipulates broadly that on-field disciplinary matters are within the jurisdiction of the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) and off-field issues the preserve of management, whose specially appointed sub-committee last January investigated the Cork and Down breaches and recommended penalties.

These were the suspension of team managers, Ronan McCarthy and Paddy Tally for 12 and eight weeks respectively - the Cork training on Youghal beach had been more extensive and involved a greater number of players - plus the loss of home advantage in a league match.

The latter sanction is likely to be applied once the management sub-committee has completed its investigations.

Proportionality

As the breach is regarded as being wholly the responsibility of the manager, no players were suspended in Cork or Down and to treat Dublin any differently would involve a likely challenge to the Disputes Resolution Committee (DRA) on grounds of proportionality.

Neither the GAA nor the Government consider that the return to training on Monday fortnight is endangered by this controversy, partly because such swift action was taken.

Speaking on RTE Radio 1’s ‘News at One’ Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers was asked had the matter jeopardised the return to training.

“I don’t believe so. I think what we need to see now and I welcome the statement from the GAA that they want to pursue the allegations and that they need to fully establish the facts and commence the necessary disciplinary processes. What we need to ensure now is that no other county breaches the rules - that they follow and advocate for the broad public health advice.

“We’ve been clear that April 19th is the commencement date for intercounty training. I think it’s now up to the GAA to establish the facts, investigate it and follow through accordingly.”

It remains to be seen whether the Garda investigation into the breach will result in fines for those present or whether the GAA taking action to address the matter will have an impact.

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