Friday 28 October 2016

Great debate: Should behind-closed-doors games be banned after Dubs controversy?

Martin Breheny & Donnchadh Boyle

Published 31/07/2015 | 02:30

Dublin’s Davey Byrne, pictured with the Allianz League trophy, was hospitalised with a broken nose after an incident in a behind-closed-doors game against Armagh
Dublin’s Davey Byrne, pictured with the Allianz League trophy, was hospitalised with a broken nose after an incident in a behind-closed-doors game against Armagh
Fergal Kelly was the referee involved in the Dublin - Armagh behind-closed-doors game

Yes says Martin Breheny. Hard cases may indeed make bad law when taken in isolation, but it's very different if they are part of a broader landscape.

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That's the situation with the fallout from the Dublin-Armagh game a few weeks ago which left a player hospitalised for two nights.

That Dublin's Davey Byrne was injured before the start of a behind-closed-doors game made it all the more serious, while attempts by both sides to talk it down had the opposite effect.

Dublin and Armagh classified it as one of those unfortunate things and since referee Fergal Kelly (Longford) couldn't throw any light in its direction, it looked as if the story would wither in the darkness.

However, mindful of the reputational damage to the GAA, Croke Park's disciplinary powers investigated, probably fully aware that specific information would be impossible to locate.

Given the public utterances from Dublin and Armagh, it was always certain that neither would incriminate the other in private.

In the absence of evidence, the GAA fined both counties. It was a catch-all sanction, designed to prove that they had taken some action.

Now, there's no guarantee that it would have been any different if the game had been played in public.

However, the background would have been completely different as the game would have been seen by a fair-sized crowd, which might have included GAA officials other than those from Dublin and Armagh. The media would also have been there.

As it was, even the GAA president or director-general could not have walked in if they happened to be in the vicinity.

The idea that managers can organise private games extends their powers to ridiculous levels. They don't own county teams, the county jersey or grounds at which these clandestine games are played.

All challenge games have to sanctioned by the authorities. Insurance-wise, players are fully covered and, usually, inter-county referees are used, as was the case for Dublin v Armagh. Yet, managers decide to exclude the public, as if they had no stakeholding whatsoever in the county team.

Locked gates for training sessions, issuing bogus teams and generally behaving as if the public should know nothing about their county team is now rampant.

Croke Park has no jurisdiction over private training but they can move on challenge games by refusing to sanction them unless the gates are open. Why the secrecy anyway? Judging by the predictability of what's produced in the real action, the private games clearly aren't exactly creative masterpieces.

No says Donnchadh Boyle

As preparation levels get ever higher, teams will leave nothing to chance. The days of open training sessions are gone.

Kilkenny and Kerry, the market leaders in hurling and football respectively, once trained in full glare of the public and any prying eyes.

They did away with that idea, and it seems that the practice has died away completely across the country.

That's with good reason. You can't ask a team to leave whatever tactical move they might try on a Sunday out in the open for all to see, particularly given the small margins between teams at the very highest level.

If training is moved behind closed doors, then why is there even a question that challenge games can't be? It would seem an extraordinary double standard.

Quite often these games are used as fundraisers or to open some new facility at a club ground. In those scenarios, the club or charity is the beneficiary and there are no complaints. So when they are moved behind closed doors, counties shouldn't be forced to comply in a different way.

In essence, behind-closed-doors games are a fact of life, particularly among the top counties, and they should be allowed to continue unhindered.

That comes with a caveat. Any sort of collusion or brushing of serious incidents under the carpet can't be tolerated. Any such incidences should be tackled with the same urgency there'd be if something happened in an All-Ireland final.

The GAA have looked to come down hard on Armagh and Dublin with two hefty fines as their investigation into the incident that left Davey Byrne hospitalised with a broken nose.

It's disappointing that it brought about nothing in the way of individual sanction, and that may only serve to embolden counties to try something similar in the future.

In those scenarios referees simply have to be strong enough to include any such incidents in their report. And they should only be allowed take charge of those games on the understanding that what happens will be reported on in the normal way.

All these challenges, whether behind closed doors or not, have to be sanctioned by Croke Park.

And in accordance, they should be played in the same conditions that any match in the Championship would be.

This is simply a matter of discipline. And it's an issue that won't be solved by trying to enforce and probably unenforceable blanket ban on behind-closed-doors games.

It would simply be ignored, much in the same way the training moratorium was sidestepped.

Irish Independent

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