Saturday 19 October 2019

Sometimes the spirit of the law has to trump the letter of it

Antrim county chairman Ciarán McCavana intervened during a free-taking shoot-out to decide the winners of the Lámh Dhearg-Portglenone SFC semi-final replay. At 9-9, he ordered that proceedings end and the game go to a second replay. Photo: Jerome Quinn
Antrim county chairman Ciarán McCavana intervened during a free-taking shoot-out to decide the winners of the Lámh Dhearg-Portglenone SFC semi-final replay. At 9-9, he ordered that proceedings end and the game go to a second replay. Photo: Jerome Quinn
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Between the Carlow County Board, St Mullins and Leinster Council, the morally right decision was reached in the row that has held up the county's SHC.

It was decided that the Ballinkillen hurlers would be allowed to determine their fate on the hurling field rather than the boardroom. It was an outcome that probably everyone was happy with. But how that decision came about, and the mechanisms required to get there, is the most interesting thing.

Going strictly by the book, Carlow were right to eject Ballinkillen for not fulfilling their SHC semi-final fixture. And Leinster were right to uphold that decision. But there, the letter of the law was invoked and not the spirit.

Not many felt that a handful of Ballinkillen's players could be reasonably asked to play two county semi-finals within 24 hours of each other and they reached a resolution over the weekend but the Carlow statement was pointed.

It made it clear that Leinster had backed up their decision but that a solution had been found because St Mullins, to their eternal credit, requested to play their semi-final rather than take a direct route into the county final.

The case can be made that, no matter the hows and whys, the right decision was made in the end and nothing else matters.

But that the situation required St Mullins to take the high road is one that should never have arisen. In making their stand, Ballinkillen acknowledged their opponents were being put in a difficult position.

And when it came to it, it was left to St Mullins to give all concerned a way out of a tricky situation. That pressure should never have been theirs to bear.

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The ultimate power-brokers were a club who had nothing to do with the dispute in the first place. The rules, and the application of them, had put them in a very difficult spot.

It's been a tricky few weeks for the GAA rule book. An Antrim SFC semi-final was brought to an end when county chairman Ciarán McCavana intervened during a free-taking shoot-out to decide the winners of the Lámh Dhearg-Portglenone SFC semi-final replay. At 9-9, he ordered that proceedings end and the game go to a second replay.

There was a similar story in Wicklow when the chairman Martin Fitzgerald brought the Blessington v Arklow Geraldines/Ballymoney semi-final to an end when extra-time and a shoot-out failed to find a winner.

Again, there weren't many complaints in either situation. Giving club players a chance to find a winner in open play is preferable but it does question which rules are rules that have to be adhered to and which ones are open to interpretation.

And it's not just at board level either. Croke Park had to find a way around their rules to let Páirc Uí Chaoimh host the Liam Miller Tribute game. Again they got to the right decision eventually but not before quoting their own rules as a reason why they couldn't let the game go ahead.

In all these cases there was a very GAA solution to a very GAA problem but it begs the question which rules are sacrosanct and which ones can be negotiated? And those precedents make them all the more difficult to enforce.

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