Discipline sea change as players clean up act
STATISTICS from the Central Hearing Committee (CHC) and the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) for this year indicate that the GAA has significantly cleaned up its act at inter-county level.
While disturbing brawls still occur in club games, there has not been a melee at inter-county level since the 2008 National League.
And the latest proof of a sea change in attitude at inter-county level has been confirmed by the dramatically decreased numbers who have pursued disciplinary appeals in the past 12 months.
Every suspension handed down in 2010 by the CHC -- which deals with the national leagues and championships -- was accepted, which is a first since the GAA introduced its new two-step disciplinary system earlier this decade.
And the DRA, set up as the final disciplinary arbiter in 2005, did not receive one inter-county application in the past year -- another first.
Solicitor Liam Keane, chairman of the CHC for the past two years and previously secretary of the DRA, said yesterday that "the last two years have been much more satisfactory," but warned "you can never get complacent".
"It took a while for the new disciplinary structures to bed in and for people to understand them, but it's safe to say that people now accept our system which, I think, compares very favourably with other sports," he said.
Keane noted that the closing of the 'procedural loophole' has helped bring increased order to, and respect for, the GAA's disciplinary system. Previously players could get suspensions lifted because of 'procedural errors,' but that is no longer the case as such errors are referred back to the original decision-makers for re-hearing.
When the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) proposes suspensions, an individual can contest it, firstly through the CHC and then through the Central Appeals Committee (CAC), with the DRA the last resort for all appeals.
"We had a number of inter-county managers seek hearings this year, but not too many players, and I don't believe any of our decisions were appealed to the CAC, which is encouraging," Keane said. "Much fewer incidents are happening, probably because our disciplinary system is clearer and stricter now than before.
"There's definitely been greater discipline on the part of the players, and I'd also give managers credit."
Of the 21 submissions that the DRA has dealt with this year -- it has two cases outstanding -- only six or seven were discipline-related and all of those involved club players.
Over half of the cases that went to the DRA for arbitration were about transfers and their only case involving an inter-county player (Dublin footballer Eamon Fennell) -- was also a club transfer issue.
The last big inter-county bust-up was the infamous Dublin/Meath Division 2 NFL clash in April 2008, a game in which five players were sent off, four for one incident.
The only inter-county player to appeal a suspension all the way to the DRA in 2009 (July) was Monaghan's Tommy Freeman and they haven't received any since.
That is a far cry from the DRA's early years when most big disciplinary controversies eventually sought final arbitration as players and counties still scrambled to get suspensions lifted.
DRA secretary Matt Shaw welcomed the downturn yesterday and believes it has come about for several reasons.
He said that not only have there been fewer serious incidents on the inter-county fields, but the DRA are less involved with disciplinary issues now because people finally understand what they do.
"The function of the DRA is simply to establish whether a player got a fair (disciplinary) hearing, and whether or not the correct procedures were applied, nothing else," Shaw stressed.
But he agreed that seeing no inter-county disciplinary case reaching the DRA this season "is a reflection of what is happening on the field of play. Rules are being adhered to and players appear to have got the message."