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Suspensions are the only punishments that really hurt

One thing for sure is that the GAA and controversy are never far apart. It is only the first day of April and already there has been a surplus of incidents: sendings-off, subs getting involved in fracas and the authorities running fast to stand still while making decisions which don't appear to make sense.

The one decision which stands out over the last few weeks was forcing Monaghan to play a home game at a neutral venue last Sunday. After Monaghan challenged -- and had overturned -- the original decision to force them to play away, it did seem a bit petty for the CCCC to have a second go at them.

This resulted in the match being played in Longford and everyone lost out financially. The crowd was small with a hit taken on the pool which is distributed to counties at the end of the league.

As I have said on many occasions, the only punishments that carry any weight are suspensions. The television cameras identified all the protagonists in the Kildare-Monaghan melee and, even if it was entirely harmless, it did look unseemly.

What logic is there in forcing a county to play a home game somewhere else? Imagine the county board chairman going into the team dressing room to plead with players to be disciplined as he is afraid they might lose a home gate. He would be laughed out the door. Yet if players knew that any involvement in a melee, especially as a third or fourth party joining in, would result in missing games, then different decisions would be made about being macho.

Naturally, too, there could hardly be a few weeks completed in the GAA calendar without some refereeing decisions getting loads of people exercised -- and one in particular has caused many to put pen to paper.

That happened in the last minute of injury time in the drawn All-Ireland club football final when Dessie Dolan was down injured after being fouled. As he was receiving treatment, the clock ran down and the referee blew the final whistle before Garrycastle had a chance to take the free.

This decision to end the game at that stage, although I'm sure it was unintentional on the referee's part, only served to reward a cynical foul and at the very least Garrycastle should have had an opportunity to put the ball into the danger area and see if they could get the winning score.

In the match itself, it appeared that Crossmaglen found it hard to get frees and Garrycastle should really have had a man sent off in the first half. All part of the circus, you might say.

Next Sunday marks the conclusion of many of the Allianz League programmes, apart from the fourth division, and the decision to have semi-finals in Division 1 means that a lot of matches could decide qualification for the semi-finals or relegation. In an eight-team division there are only two places in the middle, the rest are either in the play-offs or going down, down, down down. And one of those might be Down, if you get my meaning.

As always over the last decade, there is nothing startling or novel about the expected semi-final pairings. Kerry for the holidays, the leagues and the championships. Dublin on the move as well, while Cork will get stronger as the year goes on and the troops emerge from sick bay.

In the second division, a clear message of intent has emerged from Tyrone with six straight wins and a new type of team, but playing in similar mode to the old one. Mickey Harte was criticised in the past for not giving youth its head but maybe they were not ready.

Best to hold on to good players until they are 20 or 21 rather than throwing them in at 18 and 19 and destroying their confidence. Niall McKenna, Peter Harte and Kyle Coney, among others, are showing the wisdom of that policy. On top of that, Stephen O'Neill is not going away any time soon, neither is Owen Mulligan, while last Saturday night Ryan McMenamin and Conor Gormley showed they still have something to contribute. Picking a championship team in Tyrone will take a bit of thought; maybe Mickey Harte has it picked already.

Last week's victory over Meath was their easiest in the campaign. Meath showed nothing and are in familiar territory.

They have to beat Louth to be sure of avoiding relegation. It was similar last year and if you skate on thin ice too often there is only one certainty.

In Meath there are big problems but they go deeper than the team or its management. It is very easy to blame the manager or say the players are not up to it, that is a bit simplistic. Yet with so many good clubs and interested people the problems would not be hard to solve.

At the moment, the whole county is drifting with a lot of frustration and indifference. After last week's match in Omagh, which could have resulted in a much heavier defeat for Meath, I went to the toilet before heading home.

Inside there was a whiskey bottle, drained of its contents. I hope it wasn't a disenchanted Meath supporter who left it there. Things are surely not that bad.

Sunday Indo Sport