Thursday 24 May 2018

Misguided loyalty to protect players is really only a failure of leadership

Davy Byrne (pictured) was viciously beaten before a game last year, so far the GAA have, astonishingly, failed to find any culprit Photo: Sportsfile
Davy Byrne (pictured) was viciously beaten before a game last year, so far the GAA have, astonishingly, failed to find any culprit Photo: Sportsfile
John Greene

John Greene

It would be nice to think that some of those who make up the executive committees of the Dublin and Armagh County Boards hung their heads a little last week after the criticism levelled at them by the GAA's most senior official.

It would be nice to think that some of the club delegates who attend county board meetings in Dublin and Armagh will be sufficiently motivated by a troubled conscience to raise those comments by Páraic Duffy at their next meeting.

It would be nice to think that someone, in some club, in either county, will be so disgusted that their good work for the GAA in their area is being undermined by those supposedly in charge of the Association's affairs in their county, that they will demand answers. It would be nice to think that somewhere it matters.

Dublin County Board and Armagh County Board are both responsible for running the GAA in their counties. This includes discipline, and ensuring that the rules of the Association are adhered to and implemented. Except, in the wake of the Davy Byrne affair last year, what moral authority has either board to fulfil this role?

The Dublin footballer received severe facial injuries following an off-the-ball incident before an officially sanctioned challenge game between Dublin and Armagh last summer had even started. The referee did not see what happened. The GAA (eventually) investigated the matter but ran up against a brick wall.

If you are involved with the GAA in either county, and you have not managed to read Duffy's comments in his annual report, then here is a flavour:

"The efforts of CCCC to investigate the matter followed an all-too-depressing pattern. Even though the name of the player alleged to have been responsible for Davy Byrne's injury was in general circulation, no assistance was forthcoming from the counties in bringing the player to account.

"When the injured player, along with officials from both counties who were present at the game, attended a CCCC meeting called to investigate the incidents prior to throw-in at the game, nobody could (or would) provide any information that would have allowed appropriate disciplinary action to be taken. Given the unwillingness of either county to co-operate in identifying any of the guilty parties, the only option available to CCCC was the proposal of a fine, a penalty that was subsequently imposed at a hearing.

"It will probably be considered naïve on my part to criticise the position taken by the counties, but the misguided loyalty that protects players who engage in violent behaviour on the pitch can only be seen, by those concerned with the good of the game, as a failure of leadership. Group solidarity is one thing; a code of silence that condones violence is quite another."

These are strong words from Duffy, a fierce and direct criticism of both county boards. This type of language from so senior an official is not typical, yet it reflects how seriously the actions of Armagh and Dublin county boards undermined the values of the Association. And, as Duffy points out, the consequences of their actions extend beyond their own boundaries.

"While a county may be pleased at avoiding the consequences of ill-disciplined behaviour, the reputation of the GAA suffers on such occasions. Moreover, a very negative message is sent to clubs and players at all levels about the need for discipline in the playing of our games. Is it really too much to expect that a player or official in these situations will stand up and say, 'Sorry, I did it and I accept the consequences?' We have all witnessed how elite professional sport has lost much of its integrity through a loss of genuine sporting values. Codes of silence and cover-ups remind us that Gaelic games are not immune to such damage."

Dublin, of course, went on to win the All-Ireland title last September, by which stage the Davy Byrne Affair had long since been forgotten; by which stage the vicious beating of a human being on a sporting field had long since been deemed irrelevant.

Fining Dublin and Armagh counts for nothing because there are no real consequences. Duffy's frustration at what happened is clear, and it's time now for the GAA to consider much greater penalties for those who do not live up to their responsibilities. If you seek election to the executive of a county committee, then you should appreciate that there are certain expectations around your behaviour and attitudes towards issues like violence and ill-discipline which outweigh any notion of protecting your own.

Somebody in Armagh or Dublin can still choose now to speak up. Thankfully, there is no statute of limitations on doing the right thing.

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