Tuesday 17 October 2017

If one hearing ends with a 19,300-word ruling, it's time to shake up the disciplinary system

Acceptance of sanctions is far more prevalent in rugby and soccer than in Gaelic games

Diarmuid Connolly leaves the field after being sent off against Mayo in the All-Ireland football semi-final
Diarmuid Connolly leaves the field after being sent off against Mayo in the All-Ireland football semi-final
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It takes no great leap of logic to deduce that if a ruling on a routine disciplinary matter in sport is longer than a country's Constitution, the governing body should look for a better way of conducting its business.

An obvious reference point is to check on how other sports run their affairs, incorporate the best features and work from there.

So far at least, there's no sign of the GAA revisiting its disciplinary procedures, despite experiencing a fraught season, culminating with a reprieve for Diarmuid Connolly 14 hours before the Dublin v Mayo replay.

Having had a one-match ban imposed by the Central Hearings Committee (CHC) on the recommendation of the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC), Connolly proceeded to the Central Appeals Committee (CAC), where his case was rejected.

His next - and final stop - was the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA)and, this time, he succeeded. The three-man committee was divided but, happily for Connolly, it split 2-1 in his favour.

The DRA's findings run to 19,300 words, 3,300 more than the Irish Constitution. Now, you might wonder how a decision on whether a player should serve a one-match ban could be so long but since the DRA is, in effect, the GAA's equivalent of the Supreme Court, it goes into minute detail.

Judgement

Also, the 2-1 split between the three members called for both sides of the judgement to be carried in full.

Since being added to the disciplinary layer a decade ago, the DRA, which is independent of the GAA, has worked extremely well.

It has a high quota of personnel with legal experience, which is important. Prior to the introduction of the DRA, it was quite common for suspended players to rush to the High Court, seeking an injunction, which would allow to them to play an important game.

That has stopped over the years because players realise that if the DRA, complete with its meticulous attention to detail, has adjudicated on a case, it's unlikely a judge will overrule it, even on a temporary basis.

In theory then, the GAA's disciplinary system should work well. In reality, it doesn't. The Connolly affair, complete with all of its late-night drama before the DRA, attracted most attention but there were quite a few other cases where players who had been recommended for suspension by the CCCC were cleared at the hearings stage.

It has been disillusioning for referees, in particular, and many of them now feel - quite understandably - that their authority is being undermined by the very system that's supposed to anchor it. Still, it's only fair that a player has the right to put his case to a disciplinary body.

Indeed, there are many occasions when players have been too harshly dealt with by referees and should not be banned. However, that's a separate issue from how many times a player can make his case.

As of now, he has four decisions to make. Does he accept his punishment from the CCCC or reject it and proceed to hearings, appeal and the DRA, if required?

Contrast that with the situation in rugby where there are only two avenues. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases - as shown in the current World Cup - players accept their punishment and move on.

But then when it comes to disciplinary matters, there's an acceptance in rugby that a player might actually have done something wrong.

Sadly, in the GAA, a dismissed player is frequently portrayed as a victim, followed by a search for a technical loophole through which he can squeeze to freedom.

When the DRA, which is the fourth leg of the disciplinary process, deems it necessary to issue 19,300-word findings on one case, it's time to review the entire process.

A good starting point would be to examine how rugby and soccer run their disciplinary business. What works for international sports, can surely work in the GAA.

Rules group more redundant than radical?

Jarlath Burns, chairman of the GAA Rules Committee, has told those who are expecting radical proposals on Gaelic football to emanate from his group that they will be disappointed.

Well, that’s disappointing! Presumably, there’s no intention to suggest any adjustment to the incessant handpassing that now afflicts the game.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to experiment by limiting the number of handpasses allowed before the ball must be kicked?

The interprovincial championships, which will be played over the weekend of December 5/6, would provide an ideal stage for the trial.

It’s only three games but it would give some indication as to how practical the idea is.

One area Burns’ committee has to act on is the increasing trend towards slowing down play by passing back to the goalkeeper. It’s a complete negative and since banning it scarcely comes under the ‘radical’ heading, it has to get a run.

Otherwise the committee should declare themselves redundant.

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