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Martin Breheny: CHC’s ‘neutral venue’ ruling an unfair price for Monaghan to pay

THE strange case concerning Monaghan and their latest eviction from home is baffling. It has left them feeling very aggrieved that after working through the GAA's disciplinary channels and appearing to have been vindicated, they find themselves back at base camp with a sentence they thought they had beaten.

Briefly to recap. Monaghan refused to accept a proposed €5,000 fine arising from incidents during their league clash with Kildare in Clones in February. They went before the GAA's Central Hearings Committee (CHC) and were stunned to have the fine replaced by the loss of home advantage for the game against Louth earlier this month.

Monaghan pressed on through the appeal mechanisms and were delighted when the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) upheld their claim that they should not have been instructed to play Louth in Drogheda. The DRA referred the case back to CHC for reconsideration.

The DRA noted that "as a result of this award, the CHC now knows what it cannot do, but it does not necessarily know what it can do".

The DRA went on to suggest several possible penalties which might be applied in this type of case, including the playing of a game "at a nominated or neutral venue".

Neutral

It was an option taken up by the CHC. The decision as to which neutral venue Monaghan played their next 'home' league game (against Galway) went back to the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC).

Monaghan are livid with the outcome, which is understandable. They argued their case coherently and successfully through the GAA's disciplinary channels and assumed that the DRA ruling meant there would be no interference with their league fixtures schedule.

They would have expected the CHC to re-impose the €5,000 fine, which was also levied on Kildare and, indeed, on Armagh and Cork arising from incidents in their game. Instead, the CHC returned to the loss of home advantage sanction. The only real difference in their second ruling was that instead of having to travel to the opposition's ground, the game would be played at a neutral venue.

Here's the question that's puzzling many people: if the CHC were not empowered to order Monaghan to travel to Louth for their Round 4 game, how were they able to decide that Monaghan must play their Round 6 game against Galway at a neutral venue?

The answer may lie in an interpretation of the DRA's ruling, which outlined a list of possible options for sentencing in this type of case. However, from reading the DRA judgment, it would appear to suggest sentencing guidelines which would apply in the future as it contains reference to them not being "mandatory or prescriptive in nature".

That's sensible, not least because it would give the GAA authorities time to formalise the parameters and, equally importantly, launch an information campaign informing counties that the loss of home advantage (replaced by a neutral venue) would be on the punishment menu from a certain date.

Instead, the CHC, having had their previous judgment deemed to be flawed, availed of the DRA's suggested guidelines.

A number of issues arise here. If something as fundamental as using loss of home venue as a punishment for misbehaviour is to be introduced, it's a decision which should be made by Congress or Central Council.

Also, Monaghan and Kildare were found guilty of the same offence, yet are serving different punishments. Kildare quickly withdrew their appeal against the €5,000 fine once they saw what happened to Monaghan. So did Armagh, but Cork ploughed on and lost home advantage for the game against Laois. Surprisingly, Cork took the matter no further.

Monaghan did and appeared to have beaten the loss of home advantage judgment, only to find it returning on a re-hearing, albeit with 'neutral' replacing 'away' venue. It's a ruling which impacts beyond Monaghan as it gives Galway, who are still very much in the promotion hunt, an advantage they hadn't earned.

If upheld, the ruling means that, uniquely among the 33 teams in the league, Monaghan have only two home games, which appears grossly unfair. All the more so when venues are being used as a punishment without any prior announcement of a change of policy and when others, who were found guilty of the same offence, escaped with a fine after withdrawing from the appeal process.

Irish Independent