Eugene MgGee: Fair play demands the GAA must give longford justice
There is a fine line between whinging and common sense in Gaelic games but what masquerades for the latter is often, in fact, the former. Match after match, season after season, managers in particular -- but also fans and players -- try to convince us all that they are fair and honest when, in reality, they are whingers, pure and simple.
But they can also be very cute at whinging and most of the big-time and some mercenary managers have brought whinging to a fine art, with the most incredible statements coming from their mouths in attempting to disguise a whinge as a 'fair comment'.
After a while, of course, the GAA public realise the truth and in recent times a few famous managers have gone a bit too far with ridiculous attempts to whitewash their own players' activities. Even in the GAA you cannot fool all of the people, all of the time.
However, there is another side to this coin. These are situations when the rules of the GAA's 'Official Guide' can be used by administrators to prevent the course of justice in quite blatant fashion. These committee people know the rules off by heart, manipulate that knowledge and, as regards the rest of us, they might as well be written in Greek or even Irish.
I have no problem declaring bias in the following lines because when an injustice is so blatant as this, bias is justified. Last Saturday week in a National Football League Division 4 game at Pearse Park between Longford and Limerick, I watched the referee make a major error which left the final result reading Limerick 1-8 Longford 0-9. In fact, the result should have been Longford 1-9 Limerick 1-8.
In the final seconds of the game, referee Sean Carroll from Westmeath awarded a close-in free to Longford which free-taker Francis McGee (no relation) hit low for a goal. The ball rebounded off a Limerick defender and Longford's Seamus Hannon fly-kicked the ball into the Limerick net. That should have ended the game once the ball crossed the boundary line and victory for Longford, but the referee got his wires crossed between previous rules and current experimental rules.
He panicked, blew the whistle and awarded a free out and a Limerick player kicked the ball over the line to end the game. This decision was totally wrong because, under experimental rules, the game ended once the ball entered the net. The referee admitted his error in his report last Monday, in which he apologised to Longford players, management and county board "for my mistake", as he put it in the report.
This is where fair play should have kicked in, when the body to whom the report was sent, called the Competitions Control Committee (CCC), met. They should have awarded the game to Longford as per the ref's statement, but instead they adopted the report with the wrong scoreline which means, in effect, that the wrong result should stand.
This is where common sense walks out the door of the committee room and the insanity that resides in many of the 'Official Guide' rules takes over. There is a rule some place that the referee is all-powerful, or words to that effect, as regards the scoreline -- even if it's wrong. Some rule!
I spent an hour yesterday examining the 'Official Guide' searching for information, even inspiration, which could enlighten me but, as I had anticipated, it was a fruitless exercise as many a person before me has learned. The GAA rule book is a disgrace to the organisation in these days of modern communication; in the way the rules are presented in lengthy sentences, convoluted identification and plain doublespeak that would make any politician in Dail Eireann proud.
When I noticed the heading on a Rule as follows: 7.3 (aa), (1), (vii) I decided this was not for me and abandoned my search. Countless amendments, additions and newer versions have been added on over the years, therefore the rules are full of loopholes and, in cases, direct contradictions. The GAA rule book is a paradise for hob lawyers, of which there are many all over Ireland.
Had the referee decided to award the goal, as he should have, then there could have been little argument from Limerick (assuming they knew the latest rule change) and the two league points would have gone to Longford. Instead, the loss of these points could be decisive in Longford's chances of gaining promotion.
But what really annoys Longford people is that the CCC did not immediately undo the damage at their meeting last week, when absolutely nobody could deny the facts as presented. But this is where the nightmare that is the 'Official Guide' kicks in. Nobody other than long-serving GAA officers have ever read it -- and even many of them have never understood it.
But in the GAA world, as in the rest of society, there are rules and then there is common sense and fair play. That is why the GAA, as a sporting body which espouses fair play as one of its cornerstones, cannot allow this result to stand.
The game in question was evenly balanced all the way through, therefore whichever side was ahead at the end would have been worthy winners. So Longford, who were the winners in scoring, should get the league points. Failing that, and if the GAA falls back on compromise, the game should be replayed as soon as possible.
A similar situation came about in 1998 when Offaly played Clare in an All-Ireland SHC semi-final and referee Jimmy Cooney admitted he blew up early. The Offaly crowd was a bit cuter because they sat down on the pitch, got a replay and went on to win the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny.
Maybe if there were gate receipts at a Longford-Limerick NFL replay of over €500,000 -- as was the case at the Offaly-Clare replay -- the game would also have been refixed in double quick time, like Offaly's was.
But then small football counties, like Longford or Limerick, don't really count around committee rooms in Croke Park, do they? Imagine if we were talking instead of a game between Tyrone and Dublin -- it might even have been televised!