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GAA chiefs need to act decisively to regain authority

By Declan Bogue

Published 02/09/2015

Off you go: Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly was sent off follow a clash with Lee Keegan of Mayo but will appeal the decision
Off you go: Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly was sent off follow a clash with Lee Keegan of Mayo but will appeal the decision

There may not have been much uptake in the Fermanagh Under-21 club Championship when it was in operation, but for those who were involved, they were in it to win it.

It wasn't glamorous. A combination of an October starting date, drenched pitches and shoddy fixture scheduling meant that the six matches it took to complete the tournament could be dragged out over five months. No wonder it is defunct.

But for one season, I was joint-manager of Tempo Maguires and we had some fine footballers.

One Sunday morning we played St Patrick's in a final group game at home. We were well ahead on the scoreboard when one of those frustratingly needless rows broke out over by the far sideline.

A clubman at the wire said I should go over and get involved. Bearing in mind Brendan Behan's famous, 'I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse', line, there was never an on-field row that benefited from the presence of a team official.

I stayed put. The referee sent off one of our star players. I knew what had to be done. This win left us in the county final and I couldn't stand idly by while our full-back was suspended.

While the other manager took the warm down and conducted a debrief, I dashed to the referee's changing room. I made small talk, congratulated him on his handling of the game and probed gently if he would consider making that straight red card two bookings, therefore avoiding the suspension. No dice.

So we had to go through the process of an appeal. I spoke to a couple of solicitors and discussed the case. Then I studied the rule book and identified the magic loophole. Therefore, the player, the club Chairman and myself found ourselves in front of the Hearings Committee the week before the final.

The committee were dour enough about being there, having to leave their homes for an evening to hear a case. But they were chaired by no less than Peter Quinn, the former President of the GAA and a formidable intellect.

I began my defence and grew into it, until Quinn cut the socks off me. My 'loophole' turned out to be founded on a different rule entirely. Quinn held the rule book between two fingers and a thumb and explained this to me in a detached tone and bearing.

The whole thing lasted about two minutes before they informed us that the suspension would stand. We were too embarrassed to contribute further.

But nonetheless, this is what is expected of a manager. You simply have to get your man off the hook, no matter the circumstances.

They know this in Tyrone, and they have considerable expertise and experience in this regard. They are the envy of other counties.

Take Kerry's Paul Galvin, who was hit with a six-month suspension for breaking a player's jaw in a club game in 2005.

He called manager Jack O'Connor and caught him on a bad day. He was slightly hungover and had just watched his beloved Dromid lose in the south Kerry final. It was late December.

"We were getting a bit cranky with each other, a bit insulting," O'Connor recalled in his autobiography 'Keys of the Kingdom'.

"I asked him, did it ever occur to him that he deserves it? He came back and said that Mickey Harte looks after his players when they are suspended, perhaps I should. He knows where to land the low blows."

O'Connor had to go to the player with the broken jaw and ask him to drop the charges. He did what he had to do - he got his man off the hook.

You cannot expect the protagonists of sport to be concerned with upholding moral values. That's not their job.

Tomorrow night, Dublin will attempt to get Diarmuid Connolly's suspension rescinded. They haven't got a chance after Kevin Keane's recently overturned red card.

The GAA's authority has been questioned and a soft underbelly of justice has been exposed.

Behan had another quote that sums up our attitude perfectly to authority - "It's not that the Irish are cynical. It's rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody."

There's only one way the GAA's disciplinary process can gain respect - a zero tolerance policy. And that is a pity for Connolly.

Belfast Telegraph

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