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Antrim are stunned as rising star Fitzpatrick is banned for 48 weeks



Heavy ban: Antrim’s Matthew Fitzpatrick is facing the best part of two seasons on the sidelines

Heavy ban: Antrim’s Matthew Fitzpatrick is facing the best part of two seasons on the sidelines

Heavy ban: Antrim’s Matthew Fitzpatrick is facing the best part of two seasons on the sidelines

In a staggering development, Antrim forward Matthew Fitzpatrick is once again out of Sunday's Ulster Championship quarter-final against Donegal following an astonishing U-turn by the GAA's disciplinary bodies, who have imposed a 48-week suspension on the St John's man.

Initially a suspension was proposed following an incident during Antrim's narrow defeat to Armagh in the National League.

A still image was sent to the county board, and Fitzpatrick was identified by Antrim officials.

The St Mary's student successfully appealed the original ban on the grounds that the still image provided by Croke Park was unclear.

However, when the Antrim county board identified the player for a second time, another ban was issued and this prompted the Saffrons panel to release a statement blasting what they felt was a lack of support from the county board towards the senior football panel.

By imposing a 48-week ban, which, if accepted, would practically rule Fitzpatrick out of all football for the majority of the next two seasons, they have sent out a heavy-handed message, though it would seem certain to be overturned or at least significantly reduced on appeal.

Last week, an email was sent to summon Antrim secretary Frankie Quinn, joint-manager Frankie Fitzsimons and Fitzpatrick to a disciplinary meeting held last night.

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Fitzsimons, selector Pat Hughes and Fitzpatrick himself entered a meeting with members of the Central Hearings Committee in Croke Park shortly after 8.15pm, but almost two hours later were still waiting on the committee to make their determinations.

It forced all three to miss out on the joint Antrim training and press event held at Cardinal O'Donnell's club.

Prior to taking training last night, joint-manager Gearoid Adams cut a frustrated figure after the treatment of his St John's clubmate Fitzpatrick.

"The person I feel sorry for is Matthew. You can see that Frankie isn't here tonight, and obviously Matthew isn't here tonight. They are away down to Croke Park for a third time, even though he was basically acquitted the last time," he explained.

"I don't understand it. It's something I find odd in a player welfare sense. Player welfare is the most important thing in an amateur organisation. Matthew, he has been sentenced before and appealed and now it's a third time tonight."

Asked on what grounds he could be brought up for a third time, Adams replied: "The first one, we felt it was all done and all clear. The second one, basically they looked at the video evidence and the video evidence wasn't clear. I looked at it myself and I couldn't have told you who it was."

Delving deeper into the footage, Adams continued: "If you look at Fitzy's case, he was actually hit first in the evidence. So are they going to do the guy who hit Fitzy?

"What does it take for Croke Park or the GAA to go after Matthew Fitzpatrick?

"Our situation is hard enough playing Donegal in the first round of the Championship. Again, he has no track record, he has never been sent off in his life or even got a yellow card to my mind at club level.

"Is there an agenda? Maybe I am wrong."

Other counties have successfully avoided huge suspensions by observing a code of silence, such as the one between Armagh and Dublin who played a challenge match in July 2015 that had some violent incidents, forcing one player into an overnight stay in hospital.

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