Sunday 26 January 2020

Martin Breheny: Connolly loses again and this time it’s down to his manager

Gavin's intervention no help to his player but is a gift from the gods for the 'Sunday Game'

Jim Gavin said that the advice from senior counsel was that the Diarmuid Connolly case would not hold if it went to arbitration but the player didn’t want to go down that route. Photo: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile
Jim Gavin said that the advice from senior counsel was that the Diarmuid Connolly case would not hold if it went to arbitration but the player didn’t want to go down that route. Photo: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

I wonder what Diarmuid Connolly made of it all. He had accepted a 12-week ban, effectively closing off any further discussion on his 'laying of hands' engagement with a linesman during the Leinster quarter-final.

Ten days later, it was tossed back onto the agenda, not by media commentators or the GAA's disciplinary powers, but by someone very close to Connolly.

Most of the analysis of Jim Gavin's defence of Connolly and his attack on broadcast coverage of the case has been prefaced with a consensus view that the Dublin manager 'knew what he was doing'.

We are being asked to believe that it's all about creating a 'siege mentality', adding another string to Dublin's powerful bow.

Really, are we to accept that the squad will get a motivational surge from having a perceived injustice to a colleague stitched into their summer schedule?

For a start, it's not credible since Connolly accepted he was wrong when opting against even going to the appeal stage, let alone the DRA.

So how could a 'this one is for Dermo' mentality be remotely relevant in the Dublin camp when he didn't fight his own case beyond the initial hearing?

Gavin said that it was his decision to take the case to the Central Hearings Committee, which imposed the 12-week ban that had earlier been proposed by the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC).

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Now here's a curious thing. Gavin remained silent on what he regarded as unfair TV coverage of the Connolly incident while the case was 'live' and instead waited until last Sunday to unload his guns.


Why not have his say on the Monday after the game? Since he thinks that CCCC members were influenced by negative TV coverage that weekend, would they not be equally open to absorbing his persuasive opinions before considering the case?

In terms of helping Connolly, there was nothing to be gained by waiting until after he had been banned. All that did for the player was demonstrate his manager's unease at how he was treated, which Connolly knew anyway.

On the negative side for Connolly, it thrust him back into the limelight, something which his decision to accept the ban after one hearing suggests he didn't want.

It left him losing again and, this time, responsibility lay not with TV or disciplinary bodies but with his manager.

Asked if he thought that the coverage had an impact on the CCCC, Gavin replied: "Absolutely, there's no doubt about that."

So Connolly isn't the only loser in the saga. It's damaging for the GAA's disciplinary system to have one of the most high-profile managers effectively stating that members of such an important committee can be influenced by TV coverage.

Having spoken about every individual's right to have their good name protected, Gavin then proceeded to allege that CCCC members allowed themselves to be influenced. It's a serious statement about any group charged with dispensing justice.

In fact, there can scarcely be a more damning indictment than a suggestion that a case wasn't heard on its merits but rather was influenced by TV coverage. What about the Committee's integrity and their right to a good name?

Gavin said that the advice from senior counsel was that the Connolly case would not hold if it went to arbitration but the player didn't want to go down that route.

Why not? If senior counsel was so convinced a loophole existed, why not utilise it?

Prior to the All-Ireland qualifier draws on RTé on Monday morning, CCCC chairman George Cartwright refuted Gavin's suggestion that TV coverage has any influence on proceedings.

He probably felt he had to defend the CCCC but he would have been better off to bat away the suggestion with the comment that he didn't consider it worthy of a reply.

Admittedly, there was a curious dimension to the case but that arose before it reached CCCC. It has remained unexplained as to why the linesman (Ciarán Branagan) at the centre of the clash with Connolly and referee (Seán Hurson) took no action on the spot.

An offence which carries a 12-week ban is at the higher end of the charge sheet yet neither Branagan nor Hurson dealt with it immediately, despite the fact that play had stopped.

Yet, it figured in the referee's report. So what happened after the game? Did Branagan casually mention to the referee that he just might include a few sentences on a serious incident that was ignored in real time?

Or did Hurson ask Branagan if he had anything to tell him? Either way, it was not a good day for officialdom, which adds to the list of losers from this saga.

Still, there are winners too. Enter the 'Sunday Game', which has been hoisted to the top of controversy pyramid, prime territory for a TV programme.

Perched on the highest seat of all is Pat Spillane, singled out for special mention by Gavin who is now being depicted as a cross between a mischief-maker and a martyr.

He will be happy with either - or indeed both - portrayals. Indeed, it's Manna from the gods for him and the programme which, no doubt, will return to the subject when he's next on.

And who loses most of all? Connolly, of course. His clash with Branagan, scarcely the most edifying of spectacles, will be shown again and again while the whole sorry tale rumbles on more than two weeks after the player decided to accept the consequences of his actions and move on.

This time, responsibility for keeping him in the public eye for the wrong reasons rests not with TV but with his manager.

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