How a seven-match ban will be cut to two under new plan
PLAYERS who would have been suspended for seven games in 2011 for a specific offence could escape with a two-match ban for a similar misdemeanour this year under the GAA's move from time suspensions to match bans.
That's a huge variation and will lead to claims that the new suspension system -- which applies on a trial basis at senior inter-county level only this season -- represents a considerable softening of the GAA's disciplinary code.
Feargal McGill, head of games administration at Croke Park, insists that is not the case, pointing out that the new match-ban system eradicates the previous anomaly which allowed some players, who had committed quite serious offences, to escape without missing any games.
However, an analysis of possible suspension scenarios shows that a player from Division 4 of the Allianz Football League, who incurs an eight-week suspension in early March, for example, will now miss only two games whereas, under the time-ban system, he would have missed seven games in that eight-week period if his county reached the final.
An eight-week ban from March 4 (Round 4 NFL) would leave a player ineligible to resume playing with his county until Sunday, April 29 -- the day after the NFL Division 4 final.
Under the time ban, that would have ruled the player out of six group games, plus the final, if his team qualified.
However, he would miss only two games under the new match-ban system.
In the case of a Division 1 footballer sent off on March 4, last year he would have received an eight-week ban and potentially missed five games (four group games, plus a semi-final).
He would have been eligible for the final on Sunday, April 29 if his team got that far.
This year, however, he would receive a two-game suspension for a similar offence.
In the championship, the main advantage of the new system will accrue to a player sent off on the old four-week ban in the second round of the All-Ireland qualifiers on July 14.
Under the previous system, he would have missed three games if his team reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals, but he would be ineligible for only one outing this year.
McGill said that those examples were merely hypothetical and predicted that players will miss more games under the new system.
"There were anomalies under the time system. We found that one-third of those suspended for four and eight weeks in 2009 didn't miss a single game, which could hardly be described as satisfactory.
"The new system will be better in that no player will escape without a ban if his dismissal warrants it," he said.
"Also, this is being introduced on a trial basis for the leagues and senior championships and will be reviewed at the end of the year.
"If there's a feeling then that one- or two-match bans aren't strong enough for particular offences, they can be increased.
"We see the switch from time bans as a progressive move, so it will be interesting to see how it works out in practice," he added.
The proposal to introduce game bans was brought to Congress by Central Council last year and received overwhelming support from counties, who clearly felt the existing system was no longer fit for purpose.
However, it wouldn't be the first time that Congress made a decision without working through the specifics in detail.
And while there may be widespread support for the match-ban system, it will be interesting to gauge the general reaction when a player who is guilty of a fairly serious offence returns to action much earlier than previously.
Questions will certainly asked be asked as to whether one game is sufficient punishment for offences such as striking, elbowing, kicking (minimal force), spitting at an opponent or abusing a referee.
And is two games adequate for headbutting, striking forcefully with a hurley, kicking violently, stamping, or assaulting an opposing team official?
It's likely there would have been serious opposition -- especially from players and team managers -- if the new regulations included more than one and two-match bans for what were four and eight-week offences in the past, but an upward adjustment could be on the agenda at the end of the season.
The match bans will apply for Category 2 and 3 offences and are confined to senior inter-county level only.
Category 4 and 5 (minor physical interference with a referee or his officials; any assault on the referee or his officials) will continue to have time bans, ranging from between 12 to 48 weeks and will apply to club and county activity in all grades.