How Diarmuid Connolly was cleared to play in the semi-final

A step-by-step guide as to how the Dublin star avoided suspension for being sent off

Dublin footballer Diarmuid Connolly was controversially cleared by the DRA of a one-match suspension in the early hours of the morning before the county's All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo earlier this month.

This is a quick guide to all issues involved in the full decision, published on Monday.

The tribunal or committee of the DRA, which heard the matter, comprised two solicitors Brian Rennick and David Nohilly as well as retired Supreme Court judge Hugh O'Flaherty, who chaired the tribunal.

As he was retired, the chair didn’t count as a lawyer for the purposes of empanelling a tribunal. This was significant in that every tribunal is supposed to have at least one member from either panel making up the DRA – those who are professional lawyers or arbitrators and those who are involved with GAA administration.

The decision to quash the suspension was taken on a 2-1 decision with Rennick the minority opinion.

The incident

Connolly was red-carded in injury-time during the drawn semi-final for striking Mayo defender

Lee Keegan

with his fist. Keegan was shown a yellow card for his part in the incident.

The suspension

There is an automatic suspension for being sent off in a match but Connolly asked for a hearing before the

Central Hearings Committee

(CHC), which accepted the referee’s report and imposed a one-match ban. An appeal to the Central

Appeals Committee

(CAC) was unsuccessful, leaving the DRA as the only remaining option.

What is the DRA?

The

Disputes Resolution Authority

is an independent tribunal established by the GAA to provide legal review of matters that in the past might have ended up in court. In that it has been successful; no GAA decision has been successfully challenged in the courts in the 10 years of the DRA’s existence.

Was the Connolly decision unusual?

It was unique in one respect. Never before has a three-man tribunal split on a decision, as happened in this case. In the one previous decision which produced a dissenting opinion five years ago, there was actually agreement on the substantive issue but ‘a difference of approach’ on how it had been decided.

What was the basis of Connolly’s challenge?

There were 11 points of claim by Connolly against the suspension imposed by the Central

Hearings Committee

and upheld by the

Central Appeals Committee

. Ten of them were dismissed, including the claim he had acted in self defence.

How did he get off?

The claim which succeeded was that when the player had looked for information about the charge facing him from the Central

Competitions Control Committee

, he hadn’t received it. This was held to have undermined his case.

What information?

The information related to seven questions Dublin asked in order to clarify the sending off. These concerned details of the communication between referee Joe McQuillan and his linesman

Conor Lane

, who drew the referee’s attention to the incident and information about the actions of any Mayo players involved.

When asking McQuillan for clarification, the CCCC had condensed the seven questions into three.

The majority opinion was that Connolly was “not given details of the entire evidence against him” and “was not afforded any right to scrutinise and question the entire evidence against him”.

A technicality, in other words?

The tribunal didn’t rescind the red card so, yes. But the DRA is a quasi-legal forum and as a result its only business tends to be procedures or ‘technicalities’.

But there wasn’t agreement on this?

To put it mildly. Not alone did Brian Rennick produce the first minority opinion to take issue with the outcome of a DRA arbitration but he expressed himself in very trenchant terms, describing the majority decision as ‘fundamentally wrong’ and ‘a construct of the majority’.

Why?

Fundamentally, because the arguments advanced before the DRA hadn’t been put in front of the CHC. Given that it’s the DRA’s task to review the procedures that led to in this case a suspension, Rennick’s view was that it was incorrect to come to a decision on the basis of something that hadn’t been argued in the first place.

“I strenuously disagree therefore with the majority decision which finds that there was “a significant impairment of the rights of the claimant, which was disproportionate, irrational and unfair”. I am further of the view that the decision and reasons of the majority in this case is fundamentally wrong in that it is in fact based on reasoning the arguments which were not canvassed by the claimant at all and as such are in fact the construct of the majority in circumstances where in fact the tribunal did not find in favour of the claimant in respect of 10 of the 11 grounds of claim as submitted.”

But if the procedure hadn’t been fair, shouldn’t there have been some redress?

According to Rennick’s opinion, if the DRA finds flaws in procedures adopted by the GAA’s disciplinary processes that can be remedied. The correct course of action is to send the case back to the CHC for a rehearing with, if necessary, instructions on how to rectify the procedures.

In this case the DRA specifically ordered the matter closed, citing the three late nights Connolly had endured in order to exercise his rights and concluding: “It would be unduly harsh and disproportionate to remit the matter back for further reprocessing in the circumstances”.

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