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It's time to face up to sanctions

By Declan Bogue

It was one of the more illuminating facets of former Kerry ace Paul Galvin's self-penned autobiography 'In My Own Words', when he honed in on the disciplinary processes of the GAA.

In the history of inter-county players, few had the level of exposure to the whims, special cases and solo runs that the ruling bodies make when it comes to suspending a player for an act that runs contrary to the spirit of the game.

Sometimes, that might involve lying down on the turf pretending you were struck in the hope of getting an opponent sent off.

In others cases, it could be sticking your finger into the mouth of an opponent to execute a 'fish-hook'.

Or even slapping a notebook out of a referee's hand could end your season just when you were appointed captain, as happened to Galvin in 2008.

It was after one such infraction that he and his manager Jack O'Connor had words. Galvin felt his boss could have fought his corner more.

"Why can't you be more like Mickey Harte?" was the general tone.

In defending his Tyrone players, Harte comes from the Sir Alex Ferguson school. He will have a quiet word or two behind closed doors. Ryan McMenamin was one who got such a talk when he came into contact with Galvin's groin during that famous league game between the Red Hands and Kerry in 2009.

But there will be no public floggings. When McMenamin went in dangerously with his knees on Armagh's John McEntee in the 2005 Ulster final replay, the referee at the time dealt with the incident by brandishing a yellow card.

The Central Disciplinary Committee saw it differently, hitting McMenamin with a suspension. Tyrone - with the help of a letter from McEntee - successfully appealed it.

More recently, in the case of Tiernan McCann - who feigned injury in the 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final in a bid to get an opponent sent off - Harte was vocal of McCann's eight-week ban, later overturned with the help of some legal expertise and a late evening hanging around the corridors of Croke Park.

Whether Harte believed justice was served or not is immaterial. He is the manager, and he does what is in the best interests of his team.

That's why the Antrim football squad, in their statement following Matthew Fitzpatrick's suspension arising from an incident in their Division Three defeat to Armagh, felt so let down. Not by their county management team of Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams, but by their county board.

Their anger over no county board representative attending his appeal was misplaced, with secretary Frankie Quinn and chairman Collie Donnelly both at an Ulster Council meeting on that particular night.

And it's far from unusual for a county board to be asked to identify a player involved in an infraction.

"We have no other course of action to take when we are asked to identify a player," said Quinn.

"You cannot go back to the dark days of hear no evil, see no evil. Everything is filmed these days. They give you the chance to identify the player.

"If not, they'll identify them anyway and you'll be 10 times worse. We would then be in line for whatever sanction they deem fit."

By way of comparison, it was Armagh who did not name one of their players after a fracas with Dublin during a challenge match two summers ago. Both county boards were fined €10,000, reduced to €6,500 on appeal.

That's the kind of financial hit you are looking at.

The extra irony comes in the form of an appeal that was turned down on behalf of their manager Kieran McGeeney, who will watch Armagh's Championship opener against Down from the stands having been slapped with a 12-week ban for an alleged verbal confrontation with linesman Joe McQuillan in the same game against Antrim.

Naturally, an appeal was made. It failed.

The point is that when the GAA attempts to sell itself, it trades on qualities such as physicality, respect for your opponent, a code of honour and of accepting defeat with grace.

But it's a great big lie. When punishment comes to our door, we circle the wagons, accuse others and act out a grotesque dance of victimhood.

Let's bear this in mind before the Championship gets up and running.

Belfast Telegraph

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