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Remember, 'trial by TV' works both ways

TWO weekends into another National Football League season, and already the managerial gloves are off. It hasn't taken long for SOBB -- the Society Of Blinkered Bosses -- to start crying over the state of refereeing and/or the unfairness of a disciplinary system that "clearly discriminates against certain teams who happen to be managed by yours truly."

So, fair comment or the usual bout of self-serving excuses?

Well, if you can forgive us our fence-sitting trespasses, the GAA world isn't entirely black and white, and the managers have a point -- up to a point.


We'll start with the current red-hot debate over the alleged discrimination of 'trial by TV' suspensions. Both Derry's Damien Cassidy and Tyrone's Mickey Harte have voiced cogent arguments against the arbitrary nature of the current system: specifically how the teams most frequently on TV are getting "hammered" (to quote Cassidy) while others whose games aren't televised escape scot-free.

They are correct, of course, in the context of the National League. Setanta currently have the rights to live coverage of Saturday night league games, while TG4 have the Sunday afternoon slot. RTé generally broadcast highlights from the same games.

All of which means a limited number of games that come under scrutiny of the watching public/Big Brother on the Jones's Road. Last weekend, leaving aside the All-Ireland club hurling semi-finals, you are talking about Cork-Kerry, Dublin-Derry and Tyrone-Mayo.

So what happens if you play in Division 2, 3 or 4 of the NFL and you have just decapitated an opponent whose severed head wasn't spotted by any of the officials?

Well, the chances are, since you didn't get a red card in the first place and there is no available video footage of your foul deed, you won't be suspended. And this anomaly -- according to Cassidy -- is a "farce".

Derry's opening two matches have been broadcast on Setanta. If this wasn't the case then Eoin Bradley would not have been suspended last weekend; nor would the Tyrone trio of Conor Gormley, Justin McMahon and Martin Penrose.

Ergo the system is obviously discriminatory -- but that doesn't excuse the players in question. Leaving aside all heat-of-the-moment caveats, they know in advance that the all-seeing lens is watching them.

Having perused the Derry-Tyrone video again, our view is that the flashpoints involving Bradley (late in the first half) and Gormley (early in the second) definitely warranted straight red cards. Penrose could also have no major complaint either. The case against Justin McMahon may be less obvious -- but as third man into an unseemly melee, the rules clearly allow for a four-week suspension.

Here's the rub, though. Either this latest crackdown is a genuine attempt to stamp out indiscipline or it's another early-season bout of zero tolerance that will fizzle out long before the championship has cranked into gear. In other words, ALL red card infractions caught on camera should come under the CCCC microscope.


The problem of discrimination is far more difficult to resolve. Even in those loadsamoney days of the Celtic Tiger our national broadcaster didn't have the resources, let alone inclination, to dispatch TV cameras to every National League game so it's hardly going to happen now.

The system of imposing retrospective suspensions is by its very nature discriminatory against the high-profile teams. That is unfortunate, even unfair, for the likes of Tyrone, Derry, Dublin, Kerry and Cork. But the alternative, that the GAA blithely ignores blatant acts of indiscipline in pursuit of that impossible ideal called 100pc consistency, is a recipe for disaster.

At least you have cameras at virtually every championship match, reducing the prospect of unbalanced enforcement during the most critical phase of the season. Even in summer, however, there remains a strong perception that the CCCC has previously acted on cases that got the full Sunday Game treatment -- in other words, that pundits are setting the agenda.

All the GAA can do is treat each case on its merits, but this column agrees fully with Damien Cassidy on one point: referees should not be asked to review incidents that they have already passed judgement on.

Through his club, Legan Sarsfields, John Bannon has tabled a Congress motion to this effect. The now-retired Longford referee faced the onerous choice last summer of deciding (post-event) whether Cork's John Miskella should miss the biggest game of his career -- the All-Ireland final -- for an off-the-ball flashpoint where he lashed out at Tyrone's Brian McGuigan.

The incident happened behind Bannon's back but, on the word of an umpire, Miskella was booked. When the CCCC came calling, video clip in hand, Bannon declared himself satisfied with his original decision. This had Groundhog Day echoes of the 2007 case involving Noel O'Leary, another Cork player blessed to escape All-Ireland final suspension when Cavan referee Brian Crowe stuck by his original decision.


We don't know if Pat McEnaney is a fan of the review system or not. However, it's easier to make these calls -- and tacitly admit your mistakes -- when the players involved are going to miss just one NFL game (Messrs Bradley, Gormley, McMahon and Penrose) or no championship games at all (Dublin duo Ciaran Whelan and Denis Bastick last August).

Whether you agree with 'trial by TV' or not -- and this column does -- it has become patently clear that these decisions should be made by the CCCC, not the relevant referee.

Amid the latest rush of managers crying foul, it shouldn't be overlooked that the system works both ways. There have been plentiful cases of red cards rescinded on foot of video evidence.

This avenue of appeal is open to Joe McMahon, brother of Justin, who appeared unlucky to get a straight red on Sunday. And maybe even Paul Galvin can use the camera to quash his latest looming suspension -- on the basis that he didn't strike Eoin Cadogan as the pair wrestled to the Páirc Uí Rinn turf last Saturday night.

But there you go; in another sport, soccer for example, wrestling would be deemed worthy of instant banishment. In the GAA, we've a much higher tolerance level for acting the maggot.