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Fair play is forgotten and Diarmuid Connolly dismissal case stinks

By Declan Bogue

Published 23/09/2015

Diarmuid Connolly was cleared at the 11th hour to play in the All-Ireland semi-final replay
Diarmuid Connolly was cleared at the 11th hour to play in the All-Ireland semi-final replay

Did you read the Disputes Resolution Authority report on the Diarmuid Connolly case?

No? Well, if anyone is of a mind to trudge through 43 pages of dense legalese, they might find themselves either outraged or highly amused, depending on your levels of tolerance.

Here's a key sample, read it twice:

"The truth is that the law will demand a level of fair procedure which is sufficient in all circumstances to ensure justice for the player or member affected by the decision. The more serious the consequences the higher the standard that will be required."

Those were the lines the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) tribunal panellists Hugh O'Flaherty and David Nohilly quoted from a 2005 case as part of the reasoning for their decision to rescind Diarmuid Connolly's one-match ban.

So there you have it. All games are equal in the GAA, but some games are more equal than others, as the Orwellian fantasy of the GAA at the top level plays out.

It was that logic that circumvented the Central Hearings Committee and the Central Appeals Committee in their ruling that Connolly should serve a one-game suspension.

Here's the thing though. Turns out that Connolly didn't even pursue that as an avenue of justice. Rather, here were the traps that the Dublin defence set:

- That referee Joe McQuillan did not take the player's name before sending him off, therefore invalidating the referee's report.

- It was claimed that Connolly's strike on Lee Keegan was a reaction to being 'pinned down' and an attempt to 'free himself from the grip of his opponent.'

- That the evidence of linesman Conor Lane should be ruled inadmissible as it is 'hearsay.'

- That in investigations into the incident, referee Joe McQuillan emailed that 'No.12 Blue struck with the fist', the word 'fist' of course being different to the word 'hand' as outlined in the Official Guide in offences of this type.

We could go on. And on. But you get the flavour of where this is going.

In addition to this, the claimant (Connolly) also requested the referee's report arising from the Mayo v Donegal quarter-final. You know, the one when Kevin Keane got sent off (and later cleared). And why would he want that report?

Connolly's judgement was made by three figures. Two felt there were grounds to clear him to play.

One did not. Brian Rennick instead noted in the report, "For any player to play in a county final or semi-final in whatever division or at whatever age level is just as important to that player as it is for an elite player to play at the highest level of inter-county competition. The club player deserves no less a standard in respect of the application of the rules and the principles of natural and constitutional justice."

Nobody can talk for everyone, and there are sympathies and leanings at play here, but we should ask what kind of GAA we subscribe to.

Then, there is the entirely subjective view from O'Flaherty and Nohilly that Connolly suffered as his various hearings occurred at night on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, ahead of a possible match (which he was suspended from) on Saturday.

Dublin boss Jim Gavin said about the case when quizzed after the replay win: "We engaged with the process. We respect it and that's what we did, so I can't say any more."

Asked if he felt Connolly was wrongly sent off, he answered: "No, we just engaged with the process, it's there for us, it's there for any team to use. We took advice from the administrators of the Dublin County Board and they supported us all the way."

Of course, Dublin will feel the ends justified the means. But they pursued an avenue not of seeking justice for a player wronged, but to merely exploit any possible loophole. In the end, the DRA rejected all his 11 claims, but they gave him an out nonetheless.

They outline their reasons in the report. You can read them if you want. Perhaps not on a full stomach.

On the morning of the All-Ireland final, the great David Hickey, former Dublin player, transplant surgeon, Cubaphile and currently the Dublin team doctor, told the story of becoming a selector under Pat Gilroy in 2009, in an incredible interview.

"They worked and worked and a lot of guys left but he ended up with a core of fellas that bought into it. It was Corinthian in the maximum sense - you strive, you're honest, you don't cheat and you congratulate the other guy if he beats you," he said.

Fine words. But there is nothing Corinthian in this sordid embarrassment for the GAA. When the emphasis of words becomes more important than upholding values of fair play, then a moral compass has gone astray.

Belfast Telegraph

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