Saturday 24 February 2018

Ciarán Whelan: Diarmuid Connolly's name was dragged through mud online before Pat Spillane spoke

Read Ciarán Whelan every week in The Herald

Suspended Dublin player Diarmuid Connolly watches the Westmeath game from the Hogan Stand. Photo: Sportsfile
Suspended Dublin player Diarmuid Connolly watches the Westmeath game from the Hogan Stand. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

WHILE I admire Jim Gavin for defending his player so robustly on Sunday, I’m still surprised by the stance he took.

Having worked on The Sunday Game for a while now, I know that when you’re put in the position where something happens with potentially controversial ramifications, you try your best to be as balanced as possible.

It’s not always easy because everyone has a natural bias.

Anyone who denies that is either lying or deluded.

If you pull on your county jersey, there’s no way in hell that you don’t harbour a subconscious bias.

I’m going to have a bias for Dublin. Pat Spillane for Kerry. Colm O’Rourke has one for Meath.

That’s a fact. It has to be accepted.

And RTÉ try to establish balance by having one pundit from the county of one of the participants and one from a neutral county on as many broadcasts as possible.

I’ve been fascinated in recent years how the general public seem to think somebody in the Sunday Game controls the GAA’s agenda.

Yes, I would fully concur that if something happens in a game that is not live on TV and it is brought up on The Sunday Game, there is a better chance that it ends up the subject of disciplinary action.

And we have to recognise that. We also have to recognise that the bigger players will draw more attention. In the past I was regularly on the receiving end of scaldings from my Messrs. Spillane, Brolly and O’Rourke over incidents.

In the Diarmuid Connolly case, the incident happened on a Saturday night. The match was live on Sky and their editorial team decided to play the interaction with Ciarán Branagan several times.

They quoted the relevant rule and instantly, it was uploaded as clips and gifs and pictures online.

Nowadays, when something like this occurs in a live match, it enters a whole different space. Ten years ago, The Sunday Game might have been the main channel through which these images were brought to people but not anymore.

How many people do you think saw the Connolly incident for the first time on The Sunday Game? How many hadn’t read anything or seen anything until Pat gave his opinion?

In the hours in between Connolly touching Branagan and the first note sounding on the theme tune for The Sunday Game, Diarmuid Connolly’s name was dragged through the mud online.

And that’s more important than anything Pat Spillane said. Maybe not in the context of the proposed suspension, but definitely in terms of protecting Diarmuid’s good name. Was Pat responsible for getting Diarmuid a 12-week suspension? I don’t believe so. Could he have defended Diarmuid as a player who gets a lot of attention from opponents? Yes, he could. Would that have prevented a suspension? Not a chance.

Analyists, pundits or journalists have to be free to comment as they wish without shouldering the responsibility that what they say may influence a disciplinary case.

What happened between the referee taking no action and Dublin being notified that Diarmuid was being recommended for a 12-week ban? We don’t know.

But somehow it appeared in the referee’s report, triggering the suspension.

Did it appear in the referee’s report because of what Pat Spillane said? I genuinely don’t think so.

Any instance involving any high profile player is going to generate huge reaction and the court of public opinion will view it in a negative light or a positive one far before any analyst passes judgement.

I hope that this is the end of it. Because I admire Diarmuid Connolly for putting his hand up. As I have said in this column in recent weeks I think the decision to move on will benefit him in the long run.

And the whole thing has become a circus.

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