Tuesday 27 September 2016

No excuse for GAA inaction in sordid Davey Byrne saga

Acts of extreme violence are unacceptable on or off the playing field

Published 12/07/2015 | 13:00

It is not going too far to call what happened to Davey Byrne when his Dublin side faced Armagh in a challenge match the week before last an act of extreme violence.
It is not going too far to call what happened to Davey Byrne when his Dublin side faced Armagh in a challenge match the week before last an act of extreme violence.

It's hard to know which is more alarming - that an act of extreme violence before the ball was even thrown in in a challenge game led to the hospitalisation of a player with gruesome injuries; or that it doesn't seem to matter.

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It is not going too far to call what happened to Davey Byrne when his Dublin side faced Armagh in a challenge match the week before last an act of extreme violence. In society, any act of aggression which leads to someone requiring hospital treatment is unacceptable and, in many cases, a criminal offence.

That this incident happened on a sports field doesn't change that.

Details are sketchy but this is what we know: Davey Byrne suffered severe head injuries, he was required to stay in hospital for two nights, the altercation with an Armagh player happened before the game had begun and it is not mentioned in the referee's report, which indicates that the referee did not see it.

Here's what the Dublin and Armagh players and management know: the name of the Armagh player who inflicted these injuries, and what happened that led to the incident occurring.

Challenge games are no different in the eyes of the GAA than championship matches, the same rules and sanctions apply. Challenge games are not permitted at any level in the GAA without permission, and there must be an official referee.

And as with any incident of this nature not seen by the referee, the GAA has the power to investigate. The players and management from both counties, as well as the two county boards, appear to have a different view, however.

They have dealt with the matter themselves, the two players have spoken and they want to move on. Presumably, officials from the two boards have spoken too.

Why do they get to decide how this serious incident is dealt with? What does that say for either county's view on discipline? Dublin and Armagh should not be the ones who decide that they want to put this, as Jim Gavin called it, "regrettable incident" behind them. Armagh, meanwhile, have remained silent. Nothing to see here, move on.

The GAA, if it is remotely serious about cracking down on violence, should have opened an investigation immediately and if getting to the bottom of what happened meant interviewing every player and backroom team member who was there, then so be it. There is at least one video recording of the match - is the incident captured?

To listen to Gavin repeatedly dodge Colm Parkinson's excellent, and fair, line of questioning on this whole affair during a very revealing interview (see panel) on Off The Ball on Thursday night was to be exposed to a view of the GAA world which is not a healthy one. At one point, the Dublin manager - whose discomfort clearly grew the longer the interview went on - even referred to Byrne as "unfortunate", a very unfortunate choice of words. Throughout his time as Dublin manager, Gavin has conducted himself with admirable humility and respect, but this was not his finest moment.

In fact, the whole thing has become a little sordid. It reeks of double standards, of one rule for one and another for someone else. Can you imagine a situation where it is deemed acceptable for two teams - or in this case two high-profile counties - to sort matters of ill-discipline out between themselves? If Meath goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke had phoned Westmeath's Kieran Martin after his red card two weeks ago and the two players had "a good frank discussion", could he have played yesterday in Omagh and avoided the suspension he incurred?

As a player committed to the Dublin squad, it is quite likely that Byrne is happy to move on, recover from his injuries and get back playing. Players play. But that does not excuse others such as Dublin County Board or the GAA not taking action.

Byrne, just like all players, deserves at least that much.

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