Monday 26 February 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Presumably what Jim Gavin said was calculated over a fortnight

Connolly might well ask Gavin why has he done this to him when the whole thing had died down? Photo: Sportsfile
Connolly might well ask Gavin why has he done this to him when the whole thing had died down? Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Jim Gavin's departure from his usual script about process, hard work and all the other clichés which he uses to keep hungry hacks at arm's length was the only shock at Croke Park last Sunday.

On the pitch, Dublin steamroll ever onwards. All that is keeping the GAA in Leinster from completely falling apart is Dublin's style of football and the fact that the crowds keep turning up to the executions. Without that the Leinster Council would be beginning to call for change, radical change. So Dublin are single-handedly stopping the finances of the largest province going down the tubes and maintaining football as a great spectator sport in the way they approach it.

Which brings me to Gavin's post-match comments. First of all, he has a point about a case being debated in public before it is heard in private. However, if we take this to the obvious conclusion, no incident of indiscipline could be looked at on The Sunday Game in case it would interfere with possible disciplinary proceedings. Or maybe it could be shown but the analysts would all remain silent. Jim should be careful what he wishes for on that one as it has been a two-way street for Diarmuid Connolly.

In 2011, when Connolly was sent off against Donegal and looked set to miss the All-Ireland final, I was one of those who argued on television that he should not have been sent off and that he should not serve a suspension. I was also supportive when he received a black card in the league this year against Monaghan.

However, when he was sent off against Mayo in 2015, I was less sure and did not think on that occasion that he should be set free to play in the All-Ireland. So, overall, the record of comments made by me in relation to Diarmuid Connolly has been largely favourable.

If Jim Gavin believes that The Sunday Game influences the disciplinary process of the GAA then he should be generally grateful for the support Connolly receives on the show. Is it the case that when things go wrong for Connolly it is The Sunday Game which is to blame because I presume the manager had no axe to grind with the same disciplinary wheels of the GAA when Connolly got off two suspensions and was free to play in two huge games? Are those same bodies not to be trusted once a suspension is handed down?

Gavin's assertion that Pat Spillane read from a prepared script on the show that Sunday is wrong in fact and I should at least know that much as I was sitting beside him. Neither was there any discussion between us beforehand on what position to adopt on the incident with the linesman.

I prefer to keep my own opinions to myself until they are asked for and I did not prepare a statement either. Neither do I believe that any comments on this subject were in any way linked to a person's county of origin. I am not into conspiracy theories. And, by the way, I was not in the least offended by Gavin's comments. He is a great manager and one also of decency and integrity.

He is not a man given to wild and whirling words so presumably what he said last Sunday was calculated over a fortnight and I wonder was the Dublin PR machine asked for their views. Surely some of them suggested that he better think it through before making allegations. What, for example, has one's profession got to do with anything? Gavin pointed out that Pat and I, as teachers, "should understand people make mistakes".

As principal of a large school, I deal with indiscipline regularly and generally give about 50 last chances, but whether you are a doctor, builder, butcher, baker or candlestick maker has no relevance to analysis of a football game. I also did not notice any broadcaster with a "bile and malevolent attitude" towards Connolly anywhere. Many gave their opinions, some for, some against. Should the only views that are entertained be those which support the man who in my opinion should have been Footballer of the Year in 2015?

Gavin then made a comment about freedom of expression in the Republic not being absolute. I can only presume this was a Freudian slip as many of the most staunch members of the GAA do not live in the Republic. In any democracy there are limits to freedom of expression. Incitement to hatred, racial abuse, slander and so on. It does not seem to me that any comment made about Connolly came near to doing any damage to his name or reputation over and above what he has done to himself. Neither will this particular episode. Many people will admire Connolly much more for not wanting to appeal. Indeed, Connolly might well ask Gavin why has he done this to him when the whole thing had died down?

The punishment for minor physical interference with a match official is harsh, especially at this time of year. Not only can Connolly not play with Dublin but he cannot even hurl with his club. Some years ago the sentence was double what it is now so there has been a substantial reduction, but the severity is supposed to be a deterrent. If I was to feel sorry for anyone who got this suspension recently it would be for Ryan Burns of Louth, who got the same stretch for kicking a ball at an umpire and hitting him. It did not seem to me to do any damage and I thought that one could be let slide. His appeal was turned down and that seems particularly harsh as he was a good bit away from the umpire and if he missed it would probably not have been mentioned. Now he has a whole summer off which I think is unfair.

If Jim Gavin had argued that The Sunday Game coverage had made things very difficult for Connolly to get a fair hearing then that might be reasonable. Then again, the same would apply to all the other media outlets as well, as this was the story of the game and was commented on extensively in the following days.

Gavin could also have reasonably said that there were aspects to the whole case which were disquieting. For example, when did the referee decide to include the comments on Connolly in his report? Did he view any of the television pictures of the incident before he put pen to paper? Did anyone outside his circle of umpires and linesmen comment to him about the incident looking bad? Did linesman Ciarán Branagan ask to make note of the 'minor physical interference' in the report? If the incident was worthy of inclusion in his report why did referee Seán Hurson not deal with it there and then?

In thinking about this last week I kept coming back to the old Latin phrase Cui Bono? Who benefits? I don't think Dublin need a siege mentality and players see through an artificial smokescreen. So poker-face Jim drops his guard and does what every great manager has done in the past: protect the player, even when he is wrong and maybe more especially when he is wrong. Except the ship had sailed on this one and Connolly did not need another airing of his deeds. Now Gavin has joined forces with Mickey Harte whose long-term boycott of RTé has always seemed silly to me. It is time for Harte to move on too, even if he was treated distastefully.

Maybe Jim Gavin has got it out of his system and will return to doing interviews, and hopefully he will have a lash occasionally as his comments are usually so sanitised that he might as well not speak at all. Perhaps there was a frustration within that one of his star players continues to get himself into unnecessary scrapes, in sharp contrast to all his other troops. Shooting the messenger does not solve that problem.

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