News Eugene McGee

Saturday 23 August 2014

GAA discipline in chaos following DRA rulings

Eugene McGee

Published 28/07/2008 | 00:00

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Donegal's Rory Kavanagh is gutted by Saturday's defeat to Monaghan, a game in which Paul Finlay returned from suspension

Gaelic football and hurling have provided wonderful entertainme-nt, excitement and drama over the past few weeks as the championship season reaches its height.

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The Cork-Galway hurling game and this weekend's games between Down and Laois, Monaghan and Donegal and Kildare and Limerick have added greatly to the enjoyment and helped us forget the dismal summer. That is what the GAA season always does at this time of year and for hundreds of thousands of Irish people it is therapeutic, as well as providing memorable sporting occasions.

However, this summer has not quite been the same because, lurking in the background of the excitement and the drama, there stalks the presence of the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA), which seems to be hanging like a Sword of Damocles over the games. Week after week, the airwaves and pages of Irish sport have been dominated by DRA activities involving big names such as Paul Galvin, Colin Moran and Paul Finlay, among others.

To most GAA people, the DRA is a mystery. They never heard about it until a couple of years ago, they know nothing about who takes part in it, and it seems to have powers which were never before assigned to the GAA. The GAA set up the DRA as what is called a 'quasi legal committee', whatever that is.

It was an attempt to intercept GAA people going to the High Court to get an injunction in order to delay the implementation of suspensions that would otherwise debar a player from taking part in a big match, because the laws of the State were at variance with the laws of the GAA.

The most famous example in recent years was when Westmeath footballer Rory O'Connell went to the High Court to have his suspension lifted in time to play in the 2004 Leinster final against Laois. The GAA set up the DRA, which was supposed to be outside the GAA and whose remit was only to consider technical aspects of the GAA rulebook. It was such matters that used to be the source of High Court injunctions, so the GAA sought to counter that.

The theory of that proposal may have been sound but, in practise, it has opened a can of worms for the GAA which has dominated Irish sport this year and damaged the image and practise of GAA activity. Matters have come to a head arising from the long drawn-out Galvin saga and, in a different way, by the Moran affair. To say there is utter confusion among rank and file GAA people about these issues is an understatement.

The GAA goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure that justice is served when its members have, or are alleged to have, transgressed. Three national committees, the CCCC, CHC and CAC, handle such matters in that order and the ultimate arbitrator after all that is the DRA. Because of all those bodies prepared to act on behalf of alleged culprits, there are many who claim that the GAA is more concerned with having ways to get players off than to punish them.

What needs to be highlighted at this stage is the rationale which drives this apparent desire to give guilty players so many escape routes. This is driven by fundamental insubordination within county boards, clubs and similar bodies, which means they rarely co-operate with the GAA at national level on matters of discipline. The opposite is the case, with county boards doing everything in their power to frustrate the laws of the GAA when one of their members breaks the law.

There is a strong case for claiming that in discipline matters the GAA is, in fact, ungovernable. In the fracas between Meath and Dublin in the NFL game at Parnell Park, everybody saw that several players on each team broke the rules. But instead of the county boards accepting the punishment the offences deserved, they fought to remove or lessen the penalties. It is similar with Kerry and Galvin, where nobody denies a substantial offence took place, or in Monaghan, where everybody accepts Finlay broke a serious rule.

It is from this background of near anarchy that the DRA was set up to help the GAA fight AGAINST its own subsidiary bodies, such as county boards. Civil war is hardly too strong a description for this behaviour. But there is no denying that the activities of the DRA seem to be doing more harm than good, if only because of the damage to the image of the GAA as a national body.

In the case of Moran, while many, including myself, agreed that his suspension should be lifted, the reason for doing so is ominous. Rather than attributing it to a 'technicality', as is normal, the DRA stated that it was not a rational decision to upgrade the previous yellow card to a red one. In other words, the DRA was rejecting the judgement of three other committees.

In the Galvin case, the DRA decision was that his suspension should be quashed but then went on to state that he should remain suspended while the new hearing takes place. Quashed but still suspended? After decades of watching GAA justice, I put my hands up today and simply surrender!

l One of the saddest GAA events of the past decade was when the Maher family in Portarlington had seven members killed in a tragic fire, including Laois county player Colm. The stand in this beautiful ground was named after Colm and the local club is launching major fund-raising to cope with the influx of juveniles to this commuter town. No doubt, GAA people will remember the Maher tragedy on this occasion.

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