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Thursday 24 January 2019

Paul Kimmage: Why is no one being held to account in the GAA?

Former Offaly manager Stephen Wallace: ‘I did something wrong; I got my punishment, I took my punishment; I shouldn’t have done it’
Former Offaly manager Stephen Wallace: ‘I did something wrong; I got my punishment, I took my punishment; I shouldn’t have done it’
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

Footage has emerged of the melee that led to a number of suspensions during an intermediate match between Ardfert and John Mitchels recently. Offaly boss Stephen Wallace will be barred from the sideline for the Faithful's Leinster SFC opener against Wicklow should a proposed eight-week suspension handed down by the Kerry CCC stand.

The ban arises from the Kerry IFC clash between Ardfert and John Mitchels which was played at Austin Stack Park in Tralee and saw a number of individuals from both clubs pick up suspensions. Wallace and Pat O'Driscoll were handed proposed eight-week suspensions and it is understood that both clubs were also fined.

Wallace's ban would see him miss out on action at all levels, and should Offaly beat Wicklow, he would also be barred from the sideline for a meeting with Dublin on May 27. Wallace, who has managed Kerry to a pair of All-Ireland junior titles, has sought a hearing.

- April 16, 2018


Two minutes had passed since Stephen Wallace had started talking. It was the morning of Thursday, May 17 and the (just deposed) Offaly manager was giving his perspective on his sudden and swift dismissal to Ger Gilroy on Off the Ball AM, the daily sportscast on Newstalk.

It was a three-year plan, he said. We were building a whole new team, he said. We gave an amazing amount of kids National League time and many of them had made their championship debut this year, he said, sounding more than fair and reasonable. Then his tongue started to trip.

"I was doing the job according to the remit that I'd been given," he said, "but for some reason the people of Offaly maybe expected to win an All-Ireland within the first year of rebuilding a new team."

Wallace was unlucky. In a profession heaving with crotch-sniffers and sycophants he probably expected the usual licking, or that his slip would pass. But Gilroy is different. The job matters to him. The truth matters to him. His listeners matter to him. And Wallace was taking them for idiots.

"We may as well have a straightforward conversation here," he countered. "The people of Offaly did not expect to win an All-Ireland in their first season. And if you're saying that, obviously something is rankling with you along the way. What is the major bones of your own sense of injustice?"

And now it was interesting.

Wallace wondered, not unreasonably, why he had been dismissed and bristled at the suggestion that it was linked to his suspension. "There was no issue with the suspension," he insisted. "The suspension became an issue when we lost the football game, let's be clear on this.

"I was in constant contact with the county board; they were fully aware of my situation before the Wicklow game and it wasn't a problem. But it's a major issue because we have lost the Wicklow game."

"I'm sure the suspension didn't help," Gilroy said.

"Of course it didn't help, but it is what it is. I'm not the first GAA official or player that's going to have a misdemeanour, get suspended . . . it is what it is."

Gilroy listened and processed the words. He had watched a clip of the incident in Kerry and was intrigued by Wallace's appraisal: "When you say misdemeanour Stephen, what exactly were you suspended for?"

"There was an allegation," Wallace replied. "Look, it's a well-documented club issue below in Kerry and, look, something happened and . . . "

"What happened Stephen?"

"I did something I shouldn't have done in the heat of a club championship game. My own club were involved; my own friends, my own family and look, we've all been there, we've all done stupid things."

"What did you do?"

"Ahh, there was a bit of a melee, you know, and I was involved in it. It wasn't noted by the referee or anything like that . . . and there was an investigation afterwards and I was alleged to have done something in a melee and . . . I subsequently got suspended but you put your hand up and you take it."

"Just to clarify . . . when you say you were 'alleged to' - did you actually do it? From your language it's hard to tell. It seems like you didn't do it.

"Listen, the long and the short of it is I got an eight-week suspension."

"For punching somebody?"

"You're saying that."

"I'm asking you."

"But you're saying that."

"Well, was it for punching somebody?"

"I got an eight-week suspension."

"Is that you in the video that the Irish Independent have published?"

"Actually, I'm not sure what the exact legal infraction on the notice of disciplinary action is, because the club secretary dealt with that, but I don't think in the GAA there is an infraction for punching somebody . . . "

"Well can you tell me what happened? It's funny, because you're saying it was a misdemeanour but it doesn't look like a misdemeanour on the video that the Irish Independent published."

"So what does it look like?"

"It looks like punching."

"Is that not a misdemeanour?"

"I don't think so."

"OK, let's agree to disagree with that. I'm saying I did something wrong; I got my punishment, I took my punishment; I shouldn't have done it, I got an eight-week suspension, I'm not the first person in the GAA to get suspended."

There were some further 'misdemeanours' at the Athletic Grounds on Friday when a mass brawl erupted in an under 20 game between Armagh and Tyrone. "Ridiculous scenes at the Athletic Grounds tonight," the reporter, Declan Bogue, noted on Twitter. "There is a putrid attitude of young lads thinking it's acceptable to thump the heads of each other."

True . . . but why would they think anything else?

17 September 2017; Dean Rock of Dublin kicks his side's winning point, a free, as Lee Keegan of Mayo watches on during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

These are the same kids who watched Lee Keegan throw his GPS unit at Dean Rock in the All-Ireland final last year, and half the Mayo team being dragged to the ground. "I would have taken off my jersey and thrown it at Dean Rock," Philly McMahon said. "It's part and parcel of the game," Paul Geaney said. "Winning is all that matters," Alan Brogan said.

So what's the message here?

These are the same kids who've listened to Seamus Hickey and Diarmuid O'Sullivan moaning about dope controls and funding and how unfair it is that GAA players are being subjected to the same rules as other amateur sportspeople.

So what's the message here?

Four weeks ago, we reported that St Mary's in Athenry had been ordered to suspend their juvenile hurling and football programme - that's 18 juvenile teams who haven't played in over a month. But nobody is interested. There hasn't been a word in any of the papers or on any radio stations.

A week ago, we posted a list of important questions for the árd Stiúrthóir Tom Ryan but the silence, again, has been deafening. And who can blame him?

Why take responsibility when nobody holds you responsible? Why be accountable when nobody holds you to account? It's how the GAA do business.

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