Sport GAA

Monday 23 July 2018

Joe Brolly: Getting a fair hearing from GAA judges is next to impossible

'The GAA’s chaotic, complex rule book, with its built-in presumptions, has created a tyranny.' (stock picture)
'The GAA’s chaotic, complex rule book, with its built-in presumptions, has created a tyranny.' (stock picture)

Joe Brolly

I am constantly advising clubs about disciplinary offences and CCC investigations. It is a depressing thing to see the contempt in which volunteers, players and clubs are held by the authorities.

The GAA's chaotic, complex rule book, with its built-in presumptions, has created a tyranny. It has given the nod to the GAA courts to interpret them - if at all possible - in a way that is against the GAA community.

This explains why it is virtually impossible to get a fair hearing, and why so many good GAA volunteers are left seething. After a recent case I was involved in, the chairman and secretary of the club left the hearing swearing that they were finished with the GAA. If you're involved with the GAA, you've been there.

Take for example the rule that the referee's report is "presumed to be correct in all factual matters and may only be rebutted where unedited video or other compelling evidence contradicts it". This is actually interpreted in the following way: 'You smart-asses might have a video showing the whole episode, and establishing that it was the number 12 and not the 10, but the referee says it was number 10 and so there is nothing we can do. We're sorry that he's the captain and he's going to miss the first under 16 final in the club's history, but our hands are tied. Next case.'

If Pope Francis himself appeared in person and said he had witnessed the entire incident and that it was the number 12, they would still suspend the number 10. The chairman of the disciplinary hearing would say, "We fully understand the doctrine of papal infallibility, but, unfortunately, it does not appear anywhere in the GAA rule book. Holy Father, our hands are tied."

The same applies to our approach to transfers, which has long been perverse and unfair. I cannot tell you the number of cases I have had to take to the DRA (the independent review body that is outside the GAA) in order to get a fair result. Four years ago, I advised on and drafted the transfer applications of young twins, both of whom were extremely talented sportsmen.

The requests were entirely reasonable. The board rejected them of course. They appealed to the Hearings Committee, which expressed great sympathy in that classic GAA way, then sadly rejected them. A few months ago, on my way to another similar travesty, I remembered the twins and rang their father. "They haven't kicked a ball since Joe. They switched to the soccer and are going very well."

I am involved in a case at the moment where the parents (both fanatical GAA people) are seriously considering putting their house on the market so their young sons can transfer to the club they played with under sanction for the last four years. The emotional toll of this is huge. None of this is relevant. Computer says no.

Of all the unsavoury aspects of the rules, perhaps the worst is the rule that requires club officials to identify supporters who might have come onto the pitch or been involved in some sort of incident.

I am currently involved in a case where senior club officials had to identify some of their own supporters, whose images had been enhanced by a professional audio-visual company. This had obviously cost the county board a considerable amount, but when it comes to humiliating the clubs and club people, money is no object. As long as the county manager gets everything he wants, nothing else matters.

Many years ago, Croke Park held one of the first investigations using video footage into shenanigans during a game. All parties were called to Croke Park, including the respective chairmen and secretaries. When the audience was assembled, the curtains were drawn and the projector was switched on. The chair of the panel paused the film as each fresh outrage occurred.

One of the players in attendance was seen pole-axing an opposing selector. There was really no defence, so he was punished there and then with a suspension of some months. Plainly annoyed, he had to sit there as the rest of the drama unfolded, his chairman and secretary beside him.

There was, however, one man who could not be identified by the panel. He was a supporter, who could clearly be seen wearing his team's colours under a sheepskin jacket. At one point, he ran onto the pitch and could be seen on the footage throwing a flurry of punches at an opposing player.

The footage was paused at the appropriate moment, capturing the offender's face in full technicolor glory.

"I am now going to ask the chairman to identify this man to the panel," said the 'judge'. The chairman squinted, and scratched his head and whispered to the secretary beside him.

After a whole palaver, he said, "I am sorry members of the panel, but I have never seen this man before in my life." "The same question to the secretary," said the judge.

The secretary went through the same pretence, shaking his head and squinting at the screen, before sadly turning to the panel and saying, "Hand on heart, I cannot identify this man."

At which point, the disgruntled player said, "Well that's strange, since you were both at his wedding."

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