Thursday 14 November 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Breathtaking lack of consistency hangs refs out to dry

Players and officials can learn a lot from the Connolly controversy, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

When Judge Robert Rolfe gave his judgement in the Winterbottom v Wright case in 1842 he could hardly have envisaged that his words could have as much relevance almost 170 years later for the GAA.

The judge said: "This is one of those unfortunate cases, in which it is no doubt a hardship upon the plaintiff to be without a remedy but by that consideration we ought not to be influenced. Hard cases are apt to introduce bad law".

Enter Diarmuid Connolly and the Central Hearings Committee.

Last week, the CHC cleared Connolly to play in the All-Ireland final and by this exception have largely undermined their own authority and left referee Maurice Deegan and his linesman Rory Hickey hung out to dry. There is the distinct possibility of course that Deegan and Hickey are happy with the decision on the human side as distinct from the rules.

There are few people who felt Connolly should have been sent off in the first place but the CHC have shown a breathtaking lack of consistency in their approach to striking. The degree of striking was minimal but you can't be half-pregnant. It was either striking or not and the fact that Marty Boyle struck first and then lay down has nothing to do with this case except to ask why he and Rory Kavanagh were not suspended for the same offence. It throws the whole affair into disrepute.

One would hope that the CHC would adopt the same approach to all cases, whether a player was in the All-Ireland final or not. Maybe Paul Galvin would have a different view of GAA justice but a more recent case involving Brian Farrell of Meath, who was sent off for an entirely harmless slap on the back of the head to a Kildare player, who did not even notice, in an earlier Leinster championship match, has more relevance here. When Farrell appealed his red card, it was not overturned, while Dick Clerkin of Monaghan and Michael Murphy of Donegal had red cards overturned (rightly) at the same meeting.

In most ways the approach by the CHC at national level is in marked contrast to what is being adopted by county boards around the country where the referee's report is being upheld as gospel while on the national scene a coach and four is being driven through referees' decisions.

The world has not fallen in and none of the referees have gone on strike just because some GAA body has decided that they may have made a mistake. Yet, in counties, players and clubs are being punished as committees still maintain that the referee is always right.

The last bastion of this to fall will be when the referee's report on the score is not accepted as sacred. If the Leinster Council had not accepted the referee's score in last year's Leinster final -- as indicated by the ref himself when he said he made a mistake -- they would have saved everyone a lot of hassle. What happens when they make a genuine or an ungenuine mistake? Does it still have to be accepted?

One good thing about this CHC decision is that the whole process was speedy and Pat Gilroy and his management team do not have the distraction of this saga dragging on into this week. They can completely focus on the job in hand.

Connolly, meanwhile, should learn from this whole experience. At the time in the Donegal match Connolly was showing growing signs of frustration and was not making much of a contribution. After his performance against Tyrone, he can expect that from now on he will come up against defenders who will try to uncover any weakness in his temperament. He cracked too

easily against Donegal and it is a good and valuable lesson for him. From now on he must be mentally strong enough to keep doing simple things in the interest of the team even when he is not getting any scores.

Connolly is not alone in that most good forwards get frustrated when they are not scoring. However, the great ones change to providers and perform a different, but just as important, role for the team.

I have not spoken to one person who is not glad to see Diarmuid Connolly able to play in the final. It would be a desperate personal blow for any young man to lose out in such circumstances but the best way to ensure that is to keep your hands down no matter what the provocation. Connolly has skated on the thinnest of ice and has survived.

Maybe the CHC feel that with a new GAA president coming in next year their days are numbered anyway so a gesture on the human side is their legacy. No one would dispute that, apart perhaps from Judge Robert Rolf, who would surely still maintain that hard cases make bad law.

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