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Martin Breheny: No winners as 'Bitegate' leaves a bitter taste

BITEGATE is over, but has left a sour taste in several mouths. Croke Park are frustrated because the case made by their investigating committee against Dublin defender Kevin O'Brien effectively collapsed when Donegal's Paddy McBrearty didn't show for a disciplinary hearing.

Donegal are unhappy that what they regard as a serious attack on McBrearty has gone unpunished and Dublin are concerned that one of its players had his reputation impugned by what eventually turned out to be an unsubstantiated accusation from rivals. They are pleased that O'Brien was cleared, but remain surprised that a charge was brought in the first place on the basis of an allegation from Donegal.

The issue of reputation is important. Croke Park, county boards or disciplinary committees are collective entities, so if one or all of them get something wrong, it can be dismissed as a systems failure. Alternatively, the blame can be hand-passed among them.

However, an allegation made against a player can stick, even if unproven. In O'Brien's case, that's most unfortunate since it involves biting. Officially, he is in the clear, his character unblemished and the matter closed.

Linked

Yet, his name has been linked with a biting incident, arising from the proposal by the GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee that he be banned for three games.

O'Brien chose not to accept the suspension and brought his case to the Central Hearings Committee, which cleared him on the basis that "the infraction as alleged was not proven."

The question is, how could it ever be proven once O'Brien denied it? In the absence of video evidence or independent eye-witnesses, how could any case be legitimately prosecuted?

The GAA has indicated their annoyance over McBrearty's failure to attend the hearing.

President Liam O'Neill didn't name McBrearty or Donegal, but it was pretty clear whom he was talking about on Monday when he said: "Our system worked the best it could. A decision was made, based on the evidence in front of CCCC, and a penalty recommended. People who had evidence didn't show. There's nothing we can do about it. If left people who acted in good faith with an outcome which wasn't satisfactory. The ideal thing would have been that, having set the wheels in motion, the process would have seen it through."

Without McBrearty, the CCCC case was fatally flawed, irrespective of what written submissions were available. McBrearty could not be compelled to travel to Croke Park for the meeting and, presumably, wasn't keen on being the star witness for the prosecution case.

But what if he had attended and offered evidence against O'Brien? What weight would it have carried, unless independently corroborated?

Against that background, this was always going to be a very difficult case, something Croke Park knew from the start. However, the CCCC proceeded on the basis of the evidence available to them. They also wanted to avoid being accused of not investigating a serious allegation.

They would have known that there was a strong possibility it would not survive the CHC stage, even if McBrearty gave evidence against O'Brien. Still, CCCC felt that they had to discharge their responsibility, based on what was in front of them.

The case is now completed, but not forgotten, because some disquieting aspects linger on. Was McBrearty bitten? If so, by whom? If Donegal weren't going to be in a position to provide all the necessary evidence to advance the case – including McBrearty's appearance at a disciplinary hearing – why complain in the first place? Is it not unfair to impugn an opponent, but then fail to support the case by ensuring that everything is in order on their side? That includes having McBrearty at the hearing.

Why did the CCCC propose a ban on the basis of conflicting evidence? It led to the emergence of a player's name in connection with a serious offence which the CCCC couldn't make stick at the first point of inquiry (the CHC meeting). O'Brien has been totally exonerated, but has had his name linked to a biting offence which is not what any player wants.

The lesson from all of this is that there's no point in taking on a case unless either video or other independent evidence (preferably both) are available. Otherwise, the disciplinary system becomes compromised through no fault of its procedures, which, in theory, are solid.

Bite or no bite, that leaves a bitter taste.

Irish Independent