There is some irony in the fact that it was Dublin manager Jim Gavin’s attempt last Thursday to draw a line under the Davey Byrne incident that ended up scattering fuel on the still-glowing embers of the controversy left behind by the county’s challenge match against Armagh.
Certainly, his repeated assertions that the players – Byrne and the assailant who left him hospitalised for two nights with a broken nose and facial injuries – had spoken and wanted to ‘move on with their careers’ and that he had conferred with Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney on the matter convinced Croke Park that further action was needed.
It was an unedifying display by Gavin, who has always emphasised the importance of discipline and whose teams have a good on-field record. He sought to defuse the issue by repeating the above mantra but instead sounded like grainy footage of a reluctant witness before an old US congressional investigation.
It has become a feature of the GAA’s modern problems that the power of intercounty managers is central to so many of them: the parking of club fixtures during the intercounty championship, burn-out issues arising from young players being tugged this way and that, availability of county panellists to their clubs and below-the-counter payments, which were the subject of a major debate three years ago.
Now we had a situation where two managers were proposing to determine who would be subject to the rule book and who wouldn’t. The salient facts of the current controversy are well known at this stage: Byrne was attacked before the throw-in and sustained nasty facial injuries. A fracas ensued between other players before order was restored.
As is evident from Gavin’s press conference last week, he and McGeeney attempted to keep the lid on the incident but his disclosure meant that it was known within the counties.
Video evidence is rarely of assistance in such cases. On this occasion the cameras didn’t record the violence – it had taken place before the ball had been thrown in – and even if a brawl occurs during a match of this nature it has been known for cameras to be switched off.
Challenge matches behind closed doors like this one in DCU still need authorisation from Croke Park officials and the Dublin-Armagh game was duly given the go-ahead. A senior referee, Fergal Kelly from Longford, was appointed to take charge.
Kelly has refereed big matches in the past, including last year’s All-Ireland minor and this year’s under-21 final and is a well-thought-of match official but he didn’t see the initial assault and his report only noted the fracas before the start.
Without mention in the referee’s report or video evidence, the GAA felt the matter had nowhere to go. Investigations in the GAA are cumbersome things and there was reluctance to go down that path.
An incident involving the highest-profile team in the sport was never going to fly under the radar for long, however, and it has become an old-style indiscipline PR disaster. Even if there is a satisfactory outcome with the culprit brought to book, the GAA is unlikely to get any kudos out of a process perceived as born of a U-turn and only then because of pressure to be seen to do something.
If the investigation doesn’t conclude in the rules being upheld and the right of players not to be subjected to ultra-violence vindicated, it’s back to square one for the authorities.
Why though should so much of the burden of resolving this matter rest on the CCCC? Are the county boards in Dublin and Armagh actually content to allow this evasion of the rules in their name?
It’s a dismal paradox of GAA administration that the same officials who have to battle to impose rules within their counties are the same who arrive at disciplinary hearings determined to do anything to get their own players off charges of indiscipline, no matter how merited.
It will be a disgrace if Dublin and Armagh do not co-operate with the CCCC investigation. The only basis for not doing so will be undue deference to the wishes of county managers in a context that does great damage to the GAA as a whole.
Of course this could also be solved if the player in question was simply to come forward and admit his culpability. If he doesn’t, he should be named.
Eighteen months ago, GAA director general Páraic Duffy didn't endear himself to Dublin and Donegal when criticising them in last year's annual report for the collapse of a case before the Central Hearings Committee in respect of a biting incident during a 2013 league match between the teams.
Dublin fought the Central Competitions Control Committee recommendation for a ban, which failed at the CHC because the Donegal player declined to attend.
“The counties involved may have chosen to deal with this incident solely in terms of their own interests,” said Duffy; “be that as it may, they did not emerge with any credit and succeeded only in damaging the reputation of the association.”
Here we go again.