Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Joe Kernan: Video evidence will ensure that justice is done

Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh (right) is regaining his best form following a period of suspension

Next month the annual GAA Congress will take place in Mullingar when a number of important issues will be up for debate ranging from the payment of team managers to the possible scrapping of extra-time in championship games.

Even though both the Management Committee and Central Council have moved to clarify and modify certain rules in the recent past, there are still a number of grey areas that continue to cause confusion and frustration.

And one of these surrounds the use of video evidence when it comes to proving or disproving guilt in a disciplinary context.

There is a school of thought within the GAA which supports the theory that if a referee failed to spot something untoward then it did not happen at all.

And as a result, no disciplinary action should be taken against anyone.

But I believe this is a dangerous path to tread. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that where at all possible video evidence should be availed of when it comes to pinpointing offences, particularly the more insidious off-the-ball fouling.

The season is still in its infancy but already we have seen instances where players have been wrongly punished and other instances where wrong-doers have escaped censure.

I see nothing wrong in disciplinary bodies or Hearings Committees perusing video evidence in their efforts to form a true picture of what actually happened.

The vast majority of matches are now videoed for coaching, training and statistical purposes but the cameras do not lie — they also pick up the more unsavoury incidents providing of course that the camera operator is doing his or her job properly.

Already this year Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh has served a term of suspension but Crossmaglen Rangers’ defender Danny O’Callaghan had the red card which he incurred against Kilamcud Crokes rescinded thus clearing the way for him to turn out in the All-Ireland Club final against St Brigid’s on St Patrick’s Day.

Even though a referee might not spot a particular incident — whistlers do not have eyes in their back of their heads after all — if it is noted by the fans, then this can have serious repercussions.

How can the disciplinary authorities possibly fail to take some sort of action in relation to an incident during a game that could conceivably spark crowd trouble and cause serious embarrassment to the GAA?

In such a scenario, trying to make a case that video evidence should not be admissible is made to seem very hollow indeed.

Nothing infuriates fans more than an off-the-ball incident — such happenings have triggered serious trouble in the past. It is incumbent on referees to take action if and when their attention is drawn to such an occurrence — to carry on as if nothing had happened is really asking for trouble.

And referees must become even more alert to the practice of players feigning injury. This to my mind should be punishable by the showing of a yellow card or perhaps a red one depending on the circumstances. This practice only serves to bring the game into disrepute.

It is encouraging to note that the majority of referees have been very much on the ball this year. This will undoubtedly help to make their job more straightforward when the intensity and passion of matches is racked up considerably during the All-Ireland championship series.

In these games, the presence of what seems like innumerable television cameras ensures that referees’ performances are examined in microscopic detail.

Of course, there will always be instances where players escape punishment when offences are overturned on a ‘technicality’.

This could in effect mean that a comma might have been out of place in a referee’s submission yet a player who may well have been guilty of a serious offence gets off scot-free.

And when the public at large are afforded the opportunity to perhaps assess the incident for themselves courtesy of the television cameras then the GAA’s disciplinary process can be severely tarnished.

Indeed, although improvements have been made in the formal dispensing of justice within the Association, the process whereby referees reports are considered, punishments handed down and appeals lodged can, I feel, be speeded up even further.

And it’s absolutely vital in terms of the GAA’s overall credibility and standing that the punishment should always fit the crime.

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