Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Joe Kernan: Right to hit rule breakers so hard

Players will be forced to miss matches rather than serve a time ban should they incur red cards, like Dick Clerkin here

The administration of discipline within the GAA has, if anything, become an even more complex and convoluted issue of late.

The imposition of suspensions and fines still takes place but now punitive measures are not so much queried as vigorously contested with appeals regularly being lodged at the highest level within the Association, often after legal advice has been sought and paid for.

It’s hardly surprising then that the GAA hierarchy has become much more concerned with the manner in which bans are imposed and implemented.

Just recently the disciplinary spotlight was focused firmly on Ulster when the St Mary’s club in Rasharkin and the Dromore and Carrickmore clubs in Tyrone were making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The clubs suffered bans of varying degrees and lost a lot of credibility in the process.

Recently, there has been frenetic ongoing activity behind the scenes to try and draft measures that might help overcome anomalies that arise when justice is dispensed. The outcome of this is the confirmation that match bans rather than time-based bans will now apply on a trial basis for the forthcoming National League and Senior Football Championship.

This is a new move which has already been warmly welcomed although of course it remains to be seen just how things work out in practice.

All suspensions by their very nature must be meaningful — but in the past this has not been the case in many instances.

In fact, many suspensions even in very recent times have been viewed as nothing more than token gestures.

It is ludicrous to think that players who were served with four-week or even eight-week suspensions did not miss a single important competitive game simply because of the way fixtures were scheduled.

That is all about to change. From now until the end of this year’s All-Ireland Championship players handed down suspensions will serve either a one or two-match ban rather than a meaningless time ban.

In the case of more serious breaches of discipline, players can expect to miss rather more games for their club or county.

Obviously managers will now have grave concerns that they could lose key players for important games but that’s the way it should be.

It is incumbent on players and indeed managers along with other team officials to uphold standards of sportsmanship and integrity and the new match-ban ruling will focus minds even more strongly on this particular front.

But equally, it is absolutely essential that referees get their decisions right and players are not forced to miss important matches because of a wrong call.

And it is to be hoped that the reprehensible practice of players feigning injury in order to have an opponent booked or, even worse, sent off is discontinued forthwith.

There is far too much play-acting in gaelic football — the manliness has gone out of the game and the sooner it is allowed to flourish again then the better for all concerned.

Players who con referees into booking opponents — perhaps even red-carding them — should themselves be banned as must those who continue to indulge in filthy verbal abuse.

During the course of the match-ban trial this year, it is conceivable that a player could miss his team’s entire championship campaign.

Should he be sent off in the closing stages of the National League and suffer a two-match ban, this would be carried over into the championship.

That same player would miss his team’s opening game in the provincial championship and should they lose this he would again be unavailable for the opening round of the qualifiers.

Defeat here would end the team’s involvement.

This being the case, is it any wonder that managers are worried already? They know for sure now that players cannot afford to take chances nor can they count on appeals against match-bans being successful.

Last year a number of such appeals did in fact bear fruit to the extent that the credibility of referees was being called into question in some quarters for punishing alleged indiscretions in the first place.

The onus is on referees to get their decisions right in the knowledge that any questionable call will almost certainly be challenged robustly through official channels.

The introduction of match bans is calculated to enhance sportsmanship in gaelic football and hurling as well as sanitise both sports a little more.

This could prove to be the start of a crackdown on violence and cynicism within both codes.

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