GAA Football

John McEntee: GAA's disciplinary system needs overhauled

The referee in the recent Ulster U20 FC semi-final between Armagh and Tyrone had an impossible task

MARK Twain once said the only difference between the taxman and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.

For years, the taxman was the most detested job in Ireland. On social outings, when asked their occupation they'd often simply say they were civil servants.

The GAA dressing room comprises an assortment of professions, but you'd never see a player's occupation listed as ‘taxman' in a matchday programme.

Well, the good news for the taxman is that they are no longer top of the heap; that honour rests with the chairman of Ulster's Coiste Cheannais na gChomórtaisí, otherwise known as the CCC. ‘The chairman' I hear you say, ‘why not the referee?'

The answer to that is easy – the chairman is in the unfortunate position of being the focus of every county board and player who endeavours to clear their good name, while they must also face the wrath of referees when dead duck hearings succeed.

Two disciplinary cases are at the forefront of everyone's minds – the recent Ulster U20 FC semi-final between Armagh and Derry and last Saturday's All-Ireland SFC Qualifier between Cavan and Down.

The disciplinary process has not concluded for the senior inter-county game so I will focus on the other game, in which 17 suspensions were dished out.

More people have watched the fight in extra-time on social media than spectators who turned up to watch the match and, while most of those thousands of viewers

can opine on who won the fight, they have no idea who won the match.

That is the thing about social media – it sensationalises everything and it can compromise people's right to a fair hearing.

If three or four players were suspended the respective counties would have taken their medicine.

Still, some of these players know they did wrong and are uncomfortable with having their bans rescinded which would have undoubtedly contributed to below par performances evident in their final appearance.

In GAA terms, the referee is the sole arbiter with complete jurisdiction on all matters until he hands some back to the CCC if an enquiry is made as to whether a matter was dealt with by him or not.

I've never liked the fact that the referee's word is fact unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary, but that is the rule and we have to live with it.

It is particularly damaging to club players, where matches may not be recorded and where the quality of refereeing can be sub-standard.

In my playing days I occasionally had to take some rough justice as I held a view that the referee was trying his best and from his perspective he saw some offence which warranted a sending off.

With age came a slackening of morality and a refreshing injection of fairness.

In this game, the referee punished a number of players at the time of the infraction and allowed play to continue.

The committee followed questionable procedures in handing out the suspensions. In short, they did not seek clarification of the referee's report stating that he did not adjudicate upon the subject matter of the request.

At the end of the day, the GAA created a rulebook giving control of the game to the referee and his officials, a protection which cuts both ways in that if the referee, who is deemed to be the best arbiter of what takes place on the field, believes that he has sufficiently dealt with a matter then the CCC has no role.

A number of players have, in the past, escaped bans as they won cases on technicalities.

While I may have felt at the time they were wrong to challenge these decisions, with experience I firmly believe their actions were justified.

It is clear the rulebook is too convoluted and complicated. There are many great legal minds who understand the workings of the GAA and its disciplinary process.

There are many experts in other sports, nationally and internationally, who seem to have cracked their disciplinary processes.

These brains could surely come up with a streamlined system which reaffirms the values of fair play and sportsmanship and which players, managers and officials can sign up to and doesn't produce these repetitive challenges, which display a lack of confidence from the players and its enforcers.

My final thought goes to the referee in this case. He did his job during the match to the best of his ability in very difficult circumstances.

The disciplinary process has also let him down. If the CCC thought to ask him now how he feels, perhaps he'd have something to say.

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