YOU know the old joke that if you want to confuse a person put them in a barrel and tell them to stand in the corner. We have a better one: thrown them the GAA's official rule book and ask them to make sense of it.
In terms of perpetually throwing up mystery and confusion the GAA's Treoir Oifigiuil is the gift that keeps on giving. Take the recent case in the county championship quarterfinals when Kenmare District player Paul O'Connor, somewhat bizarrely, walked off the pitch in a fit of pique and didn't return to the action.
Now, the shame of having left his team mates down in such circumstances (and, we suggest, their call to leave him cut adrift from the team in future) should be punishment enough for O'Connor, but the question has been asked: what, if any, rule did O'Connor break, and what, if any, punishment could he incur?
We turned to the trusty Treoir Oifigiuil for the answer and, yes, what O'Connor did was in breach of the playing rules of the game. However, it appears that while O'Connor breach the rules, the rule book doesn't quite legislate for a sanction to said breach.
Under the rules that deal with 'dissent', which is a punishable offence, rule 6.6 states: 'A team or player(s) leaving the field without the referee's permission or refusing to continue playing'. That would certainly appear to cover what Paul O'Connor did against St Kierans.
The procedure for dealing with a Rule 6.6 offence is 'as in Rule 6.4', which states: 'To show dissent with the referee's decision to award a free kick to the opposing team.'
Now this is where it gets confusing. While O'Connor might have shown dissent toward match referee Sean Joy in relation to a free kick being awarded (either verbally or by his action of leaving the field) the difficulty begins because O'Connor wasn't challenging the referee to award the opposing team a free kick. Rather, O'Connor's opprobrium arose from the fact that he wasn't allowed to take his own team's free kick quickly, and the 'goal' he did score from that quick free was subsequently disallowed.
Nevertheless, the penalty for a breach of Rule 6.4 is that 'the free kick already awarded shall be taken 13m more advantageous than the place of original kick - up to opponents' 13m line. Further dissent on an occasion shall be considered as a breach of Rule 6.1 and shall be penalised accordingly.'
Seeing as O'Connor took issue with his own team's free kick, the option of bringing that free kick forward is not an option. However, if we can assume that O'Connor's protestations towards the referee and his subsequent walk off represent 'further dissent' then that 'shall be considered as a breach of Rule 6.1 and shall be penalised accordingly.'
Fine. Back up to Rule 6.1 we go, which states: 'To challenge the authority of a referee, umpire, linesman or sideline official' the penalty for which is to 'caution the offender; order off for second cautionable foul'.
Of course, the problem here is that the player wasn't around to be cautioned (with a yellow card) or be ordered off (a red card). In these circumstances does a referee issue a yellow card in absentia and does a walk off constitute a second cautionable foul and therefore carry a second yellow and a red; and if so what is the subsequent sanction for the player?
The answer here is that infractions under Rule 6 'Dissent' don't carry any suspensions; only yellow and red cards in their own right.
Rule 6 (dissent) covers challenging a referee's authority, as distinct from Rule 5 (aggressive fouls) which covers stronger verbal abuse, threatening behaviour and physical interference and assault towards match officials.
So, if all Paul O'Connor did was leave the field without the referee's permission - which is covered by the rules for 'dissent' - then the toughest sanction the player could be hit with was a red card, which in the circumstances would have been totally redundant seeing as O'Connor had already removed himself from the game.
It might be insightful to consider the opposite scenario of a player refusing to leave the field of play when instructed to do so by the match referee.
Rule 6.5 cites a breach of the rules in the event that (a) [a player] refuses to leave the field of play when ordered off, and (b) [a player] rejoins the game after being ordered off.
According to the GAA rule book, the procedure for dealing with that is to 'first give a three minute warning to the team captain, or the official in charge of the team, or the player(s) involved, and then, if the player(s) refuses to comply, terminate the game.'
Could the same be applied in reverse: a game being terminated in the event a player refused to come back on to the field of play? The key word in the procedure is 'terminate' as opposed to the offending team forfeiting the game, so in theory a team behind in a match could get a man to walk off, refuse to come back on and have the game terminated. The sanction of fortfeiture, however, in both scenarios would certainly keep players who should be on the field on the field, and players who should be off the field off the field.
Perhaps some authority on the Treoir Oifigiuil might see to it that this particular loophole is closed.
Otherwise, on those rare occasions when a player decides to make a premature and unauthorised exit from a match maybe they should be put in a barrel and told to stand in the corner.