Seán Moran: DRA saving the GAA a lot of money for 16 years

Disputes Resolution Authority has proved its worth to the association

In the past few years the only intercounty matters to come before the DRA  have been the McCarthy case last week and the doomed attempt by Tyrone’s Rory Brennan (above) to clear himself for the Ulster championship match against Donegal. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

In the past few years the only intercounty matters to come before the DRA have been the McCarthy case last week and the doomed attempt by Tyrone’s Rory Brennan (above) to clear himself for the Ulster championship match against Donegal. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Not everyone was aware that the Cork training row was an ongoing matter.

Football manager Ronan McCarthy went before the Disputes Resolution Authority last Friday more than three months after the incident in question on Youghal beach.

By then it had already been overtaken by further episodes of unauthorised training but it still may have caused a bit of uncomfortable shifting in Croke Park. After all, were it to be struck down the prototype penalty for this activity – 12 weeks –- would no longer exist.

As it turned out everything was in order and the penalty imposed was endorsed.

The DRA was established 16 years ago this week and intended to prevent the taking of High Court injunctions to put a stay on suspensions. This would allow a player to take part in an upcoming big match.

Faced with an objection to the imposition of the penalty and asked to bear in mind that the claimant ‘could never get back that opportunity,’ courts listed the issue for full hearings and in the meantime the player could play away.

The year before the DRA was established Rory O’Connell, the Westmeath centrefielder, took an injunction which was granted on an interim basis and allowed him play in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Derry during his county’s one summer to date as Leinster champions.

By the time the full hearing came up for listing, the matter could easily be dropped and the ban served out at a meaningless time of year.

It used to surprise me that the GAA took such an indulgent attitude to this and that rather than challenge it in the Supreme Court if necessary, they took the view that it would be unseemly to contest the injunction and withdrew.

Even had they insisted in going to a full hearing to establish the principle of the suspension it might have created something of a disincentive to any future claimants.

Later that summer Waterford’s John Mullane got a red card in the Munster hurling final and opted not to seek judicial intervention – despite being told that “the money was there on the table for him” to go ahead.

The DRA was established to prevent the courts being used in this fashion. No court would hear a case if there was independent arbitration available and if that decision was challenged, there would be a far higher bar to reach to persuade a court to facilitate them.

Fruit machine

In the early stages there was predictably the possibility of the fruit machine about the process, as various miscreants chanced their arm at redemption. There were missteps along the way and a couple of bizarre decisions – most notably Diarmuid Connolly’s escape in 2015.

This had featured a sliding doors moment in that Stephen Cluxton missed a free at the very end of the semi-final against Mayo, which ended as a draw. Had he scored, the DRC (the panel that hears the case) couldn’t have been empanelled as Hugh O’Flaherty, being from Kerry, wouldn’t have heard a case when his county were Dublin’s next opponents and without his input, it’s unlikely that Connolly would have been cleared.

The people that volunteer for these panels are putting in hard yards for the GAA for no other reason than that they are well disposed towards the association. Current secretary Rory Hanniffy is a barrister and was an outstanding and committed hurler for Offaly at a stage by which the music had largely died for his county.

Those who sit in on the hearings, two lawyers and an experienced GAA volunteer get nothing in return except the guarantee that they won’t be knocking off early. I can’t think of a hearing that didn’t last until the early hours of the morning.

It is standard that anyone involved in a hearing will need to acquaint themselves with 100 pages of documents and listen to intense discussion for hours.

The DRA has long passed the point of being a lucky dip for those suspended and the majority of its caseload now concerns arcane matters like eligibility and transfer squabbles.

In the past few years the only intercounty matters to come before it have been the McCarthy case last week and the doomed attempt by Rory Brennan to clear himself for the Ulster championship match against Donegal.

That is attributable to the certainty the DRA has given to these matters. The penny finally dropped that there wouldn’t be any serendipitous deliverance and cases duly fell away.

If there is a quibble with the system it is in the length of time that it takes to post a full decision on the website although an immediate determination always goes up promptly.

Full decision

For instance the above case of Brennan was adjudicated last October but six months later, the full decision is still awaited.

This presumably arises because the matter has been resolved and in most cases that’s all that’s material. A full decision, though, is a necessary part of the process and provides an interesting perspective on the GAA’s rule book as well as establishing parameters for future disputes.

The writing of these decisions is generally undertaken by the chair of the DRC, often a senior counsel, whose 20-page reasoning might usually command a weighty bag of guineas but who is doing this out of the goodness of their heart. So it can a delicate matter as to how much pressure can be exerted.

If it’s a question of resources that might help to assist in the production of the decision – a rapporteur to liaise on the subject, for instance – they should be found. The DRA has been saving the GAA a lot of money for 16 years and counting.

smoran@irishtimes.com

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