Duffy to put ban system under the spotlight
The stark imbalance of the GAA's disciplinary system has been highlighted by Director General Paraic Duffy in his annual report to next month's Congress.
Duffy believes the current system of time bans has to be replaced with a fairer and more equitable system based on missing matches instead.
In a detailed account of inter-county suspensions served in 2009, the injustice is exposed by the number of matches missed in comparable cases of time suspensions served by players.
The most glaring imbalance was registered for the 16 players who received eight-week suspensions.
Four of those missed no game whatsoever, four more missed one game, one missed two games, another missed three, while five missed four games. One player was forced to miss a total of five games.
"There is an obvious and clear imbalance in any system where one player serves no suspension for the same offence that another player can miss five games for," writes Duffy of the disparity.
In a separate study of those players who picked up four-week bans, less glaring but still hugely inconsistent penalties were served.
Out of the 68 four-week bans served, 16 did not missed a game because there was no "next game" in the competition.
Under the category that merits a four-week ban, if the time ban elapses before the next game in the competition, the player in question must still miss that next game.
There were 27 players who missed one game and nine who missed two games. Two players who got four weeks were hit hardest by having to sit out three games.
Duffy acknowledges that because of multiple eligibility (club, county, college and code) enforcing a system of match bans would be difficult.
Duffy makes his comments as a motion on the very same issue makes its way to the floor of Congress.
Longford club Grattan Og have proposed their own system for adoption in 2011 whereby current time suspensions would convert into matches.
Under their system, a current two-week suspension, applied to a player who picks up a second red card for double yellow cards, would equate to a two-match ban. A four-week (Category Two) suspension would become a three-match suspension, eight weeks would become four matches and 16 weeks (Cat 3.2) would become an eight-match penalty.
Grattan Og convert the rest of the current categories into matches but in the meantime the GAA have themselves been working on a system which will go before Congress in 2011.
In Duffy's words, match suspensions represent a "fairer" way because of the way inter-county games are scheduled.
"The situation is particularly noticeable at inter-county level where the irregular nature of fixture scheduling means that at times there are frequently four or five-week gaps between championship games and in a scenario where the four-week suspension is the most common in our games, it leads to a situation where many players effectively do not miss a single game," he writes.
Duffy also believes the current championship format in football is still the best available to the GAA until someone comes up with a better model.
He is in favour of retaining the provincial championships and the qualifiers, two aspects of the structures that have been exposed to more debate over the last 12 months.
"Many of those who criticise the provincial system claim that the introduction of the All-Ireland qualifiers has diminished the championships because the essential "do or die" element is no longer a vital factor," he writes.
"One is led to wonder therefore why it is that the most oft-quoted alternative is a Champions League-style group-of-four structure, a system that would even further diminish the knock-out spirit of the championship."
Duffy also used his report to hit out at criticism of the GAA's failure in some years to start the championship "with a big bang".
He uses the example of the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the FA Cup to substantiate his point.
"The platitude about the first GAA championship matches has more to do with lazy and unreflective comment than it has with reality," he argues.
"The fact is that most competitions of a knock-out nature start small and build big -- the RWC 2011 launched with the meeting of the Cayman Islands and Trinidad & Tobago and this year's FA Cup with Huddersfield Town and Dagenham & Redbridge."
He agrees that it could be an issue for the association but insists: "To imply -- as was done by some commentators in several media outlets last summer -- that this is uniquely a GAA phenomenon is inaccurate, unprofessional and unfair."
Duffy has also revealed that a presentation on the gravity of pitch invasions will be made to Congress.
He again highlighted the serious nature of the inevitable "crush" that follows major finals in Croke Park and other venues around the country and said it will become a major issue for the administration in the years ahead.
"Many safety experts have expressed surprise that a major incident has not occurred before this. Riding one's luck does not constitute a safety strategy," he writes.
"Quite incredibly our attempts to keep our supporters and players safe have been interpreted by some -- including a few of our own officials at county level -- as somehow being motivated solely by a desire to bring an end to an All-Ireland final day tradition."
Duffy did acknowledge that attempts to curb the practice were "not handled well" at the end of last year's championship.
GAA president Christy Cooney added that if legislation is introduced to stem the practice of the pitch invasion it will have to complied with at all venues in the future.