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Seán Moran: Spillane entirely justified in Connolly comments

Pundit merely addressed the incident, the rule book provision and its attendant ban

Is Pat Spillane to be allowed to comment on anything that might affect Kerry? Dublin manager Jim Gavin's tour de force media conference came as a matter of bafflement to most present and you'd imagine those elsewhere – apart from possibly in Westmeath, where it provided a welcome diversion from the grim realities of a 31-point defeat.

As mentioned here previously, there is a tendency to treat those found to have breached the playing rules as if they have been charged under criminal law. Gavin retraced this approach with Diarmuid Connolly, the Dublin footballer currently serving a 12-weeks suspension, by making copious references to his 'good name' and how it had been 'attacked'.

Connolly, to recap, had during the Dublin-Carlow match broken the rule that states you can't lay a hand on a match official and been given the minimum suspension applicable. In other words he was in breach of the rule book of a voluntary organisation to which he belongs.

It’s a tough minimum suspension but it’s meant to be in order to discourage players from crossing the line into unacceptable behaviour towards referees, linesmen and umpires.


According to the Dublin manager, Connolly had never wanted to dispute the charge but simply to accept it and put it behind him – a process you’d imagine was complicated by the reviving of the controversy on Sunday.

The weekend was Gavin's first public statement on the topic and he clearly was unhappy with some of the media coverage, specifically RTÉ's Sunday Game pundits and especially Pat Spillane.

Yet it was hard to know what the precise issue was. At times he appeared to be accusing The Sunday Game of felon setting; at other points it was that they had indulged in character assassination whereas there was also an underlying sense that he felt the suspension might have been avoided altogether.

Taking these is reverse order, the idea that the suspension mightn’t stick was interesting.

“We’ve received advice from senior counsel,” he said, “that if this went to arbitration the case wouldn’t hold but Diarmuid didn’t want that to happen. He just wanted to move on in the best interests of the team. That’s what he decided to do.”

No action

Leaving aside that it would be – even by the standards of the Law Library – a confident SC, who could say for certain what would and wouldn't hold in front of the DRA, there's an argument that Connolly had a better case with this episode than he had two years ago when he did get off a red-card suspension.

It would have rested on the validity of referees adding incidents to their match reports despite not having dealt with them on the field – or, as Dublin would argue, having dealt with them by taking no action.

The fact remains however that the infraction took place and any escaping suspension would have been on a technicality, something that generally doesn’t do wonders for a player’s good name.

In relation to the comments of former Meath and Kerry players Colm O’Rourke and Pat Spillane on television the night after the incident, nothing that either had to say referred to anything other than what had happened and Connolly’s on-field behaviour.

When asked how Connolly’s good name had been attacked other than in relation to the incident, Gavin didn’t give examples.

The only broader context relating to the matter was the Dublin manager’s own reference to the careers of the two pundits.

He said: “. . . both of them are teachers you’d hope they’d understand that people do make mistakes and that due process should be allowed before we become judge, jury and executioner in one particular incidence”.

In fact, O’Rourke and Spillane had simply commented on the incident and drawn attention to the rule book provision and its minimum attendant ban.

Later on Sunday night Spillane found himself under further attack from an unexpected source, The Sunday Game. That night's pundits Dessie Dolan and Joe Brolly made veiled references to the pursuit of a suspension for a key Dublin player and how it might enhance Kerry's prospects. They also echoed Gavin in asserting that the CCCC wouldn't have acted against Connolly were it not for Spillane's intervention.

That is very difficult to sustain. The match had been televised live on Sky and attention already drawn to the incident. Match reports mentioned that Connolly might have a case to answer and social media had been exercised by the matter for a full 24 hours before The Sunday Game got to express a view

Spillane is just the latest example of someone stating a factual case but whose views are impugned on the basis of where he’s from. Is he therefore to be prevented from giving an opinion on any disciplinary matter involving a potential rival of Kerry?

And by the way Westmeath would favour a graded championship.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times