Sunday 22 July 2018

Why Austin Gleeson case shows the need to follow rugby example

Referees shouldn't be part of discipline process - independent citing process a fairer system

Austin Gleeson finishes off his wonder-goal past Cork’s Anthony Nash on Sunday – all
Waterford fans will be relieved he has got the all-clear to play in the All-Ireland final. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Austin Gleeson finishes off his wonder-goal past Cork’s Anthony Nash on Sunday – all Waterford fans will be relieved he has got the all-clear to play in the All-Ireland final. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Austin Gleeson is free to play in next month's All-Ireland hurling final. Bravo for that. The game will be all the better for it.

The dynamism, daring and swashbuckling elegance he brings to his game will help to illuminate it as a spectacle.

How many other hurlers would have ignored the obvious outlet that was Michael 'Brick' Walsh outside him to go it alone and take responsibility for the crowning third Waterford goal against Cork last Sunday? It was the same responsibility that Joe Canning was willing to take and demand the ball in so many positions in the closing stages of the first semi-final a week earlier.

That is, of course, the heart speaking with Waterford preparing for only a second All-Ireland final appearance since 1963. Being without their trail-blazer would have left a hollow feel to the whole build-up and, quite probably, the aftermath.

The head must look at it differently though. Gleeson committed an infraction that looked to be clearly covered by a rule which has come so sharply into focus in the last number of weeks and months, ironically because of Waterford players testing it to its limits.

viewing Deliberately pulling a helmet or face guard carries a one-match ban and Gleeson's action looked to meet the criteria in any retrospective viewing of the incident, especially from the Cusack Stand camera angle.

Except referee James Owens, who didn't have the benefit of such hindsight, exercised his discretion in that regard and chose not to penalise in real time.

When contacted by the GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) with clips of the incident, he was satisfied it had been adjudicated on and was neither deliberate nor dangerous. Thus, it was time to move on and Gleeson is in the clear.

The decision of Owens must be accepted. He feels it was dealt with satisfactorily, many others would choose to disagree and it's quite probable that Gleeson would have been facing a charge without that critical element.

But it once again shines a light on the sacrosanct element of a referee's decision with the basic premise that their decision should stand even when it's wrong, unless a player has been unjustly punished, and begs the question - is it best serving the GAA disciplinary process? What investigative process in any walk of life can work properly if 'in the moment' action can't be revisited.

Waterford will feel a sense of justice in this respect as what arguably took Tadhg de Búrca down for the semi-final has now liberated his colleague. They'll also feel a balance after the CCCC decided not to lay a charge against Galway's Adrian Tuohy last week when he too walked a thin line after grabbing hold of 'Bonner' Maher's helmet that subsequently came off.

De Búrca's incident looked far less deliberate but when put to a Central Hearings Committee (CHC) the body of evidence wasn't there to exonerate him.

There's a recent history of players escaping sanction when an All-Ireland final is on the line. In 2007, Noel O'Leary struck Graham Geraghty in the early stages of the 2007 All-Ireland semi-final and was yellow-carded by referee Brian Crowe. At that time CCCC could revisit such incidents even if they had clearly been dealt with to upgrade the penalty but Crowe was satisfied with his initial action and O'Leary played in the All-Ireland final against Kerry, despite the option given to him to reconsider.

Two years later, another Cork footballer John Miskella was yellow-carded for what CCCC subsequently felt was a striking offence on Tyrone's Brian McGuigan. But when put to referee John Bannon he too didn't yield and Miskella played subsequently.

Crowe didn't referee too many big games after that. It was Bannon's last senior inter-county match so he wasn't around to suffer the same fate.

Within a year of stepping down Bannon was behind a motion from his club to remove the referee from retrospective action and give citing powers to CCCC but it failed at Congress.

A year later it returned again but this time the citing element was dropped and it was determined that once a referee made a decision, it stood, more than he had bargained for.

So many players have fallen and stood since on that decision but nothing has highlighted it more than the Gleeson case.

Human nature being what it is, it is a lot to ask of a referee to reconsider his initial action or inaction as the case may be, especially when an All-Ireland final is at stake which is why the provision of citing powers to a committee like CCCC - something along the lines of what rugby has - makes more sense than ever and why Bannon brought his original proposal to Newcastle in 2010.

Detecting deliberate and dangerous pulls of a helmet or face guard are difficult and sometimes the deliberate nature is not immediately evident in real time. Review of footage is critical in this respect if a rule that was brought it on the grounds of safety four years ago can be properly enforced.

But only in the hands of a body with citing powers that bypass the call of a referee can that really happen.

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