Saturday 22 July 2017

Comment: A 48-week suspension, a DVD and Joe Brolly - how did the GAA end up here?

Joe Brolly (left) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (right).
Joe Brolly (left) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (right).

Declan Bogue

A little bit of hard news for you at the top of the column; Antrim will be appealing Matthew Fitzpatrick's suspension, having lodged the appeal on Tuesday night.

The man heading it up, will be no less than...drum roll here... Joe Brolly! An intriguing case just went nucleaur.

Let's rewind and recap how we got here. At first, a grainy still image of a player was sent to Antrim, who were asked to identify a player involved in an off-the-ball incident against Armagh. A member of the team management and a member of the county board thought it was a player alright, but not Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Read more: Antrim turn to barrister Brolly to spearhead appeal of 48-week suspension

On the basis that no-one could offer a certain identification, Fitzpatrick won his appeal.

The Central Competitions Control Committee then acquired a short video clip and asked Antrim to identify the player. A county board officer did so. Again it was not clear, with the players’ face and number obscured so Fitzpatrick won his second appeal.

On Monday night, the CHC requested Fitzpatrick for a third meeting. This time they had a much longer clip. They froze the clip at one point and asked Fitzpatrick if he was the player identified. When he confirmed, they laid a charge against him of ‘misleading an investigation’.

The length of time of the ban changed, because the charge changed. From striking, to misleading an investigation. 

Of course, it will not stick. Antrim are pursuing their case through another layer of GAA bureaucracy with the Central Appeals Committee and are enlisting the help of the legal profession.

At best, it could be thrown out. Antrim are clinging to the stipulation that a video clip, edited in any way, cannot be used in evidence. At worst, Fitzpatrick’s suspension would be at least halved.

The odd thing is that Antrim are now being punished off the back of evidence provided by Armagh, in an effort to clear one of their own players. 

As joint-manager Gearoid Adams said on Monday night; “The fact they have another DVD of it, which apparently is different from the last one, shows that there is some sort of an agenda.

“If you look at Fitzy’s, he was actually hit first in the evidence. So are they going to do the guy who hit Fitzy?

“What does it take for Croke Park or the GAA to go after Matthew Fitzpatrick?”

Adams is intimately familiar with Fitzpatrick, having coached him from he was under-16 at their club, St John’s.

To his mind, he can barely recall the forward picking up a yellow card in his career, let alone a red.

What seems clear at this point is that Fitzpatrick did transgress. Let’s not forget that. But the GAA culture is not to accept punishments.

It’s not the populist thing to say, but when you take this case in isolation, digest the fact that the GAA are going to take a dim view of misleading evidence, then you cannot logically disagree with some form of punishment although the length is ridiculous.

Hold it up against the light of various cases down through the years however and the GAA look as if they are making it up as they go along.

In 2015, Armagh and Dublin played a challenge match that ‘got a bit tasty’. Dublin defender Davey Byrne ended up hospitalised overnight with facial injuries.

The GAA asked for video evidence of the match, and neither county provided it. In an age where every training session is recorded on video, we were expected to believe that two of the most resourced, professional teams did not have a video man.

Neither county released names of those involved. Nobody was suspended. There was a significant fine, reduced to a less significant fine on appeal.

And then there was the time Diarmuid Connolly was recorded on video punching Lee Keegan in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final. He received a red card, but escaped the suspension after Dublin had the means and the expertise to bring it to the Disputes Resolution Authority, prising open a loophole big enough to squeeze through.

This is how it works, in the two-tier GAA justice system. 

Say it ain't so, Joe.

Belfast Telegraph

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