GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane: It's time the punishment fitted the crime – provided the crime can be proven

Former Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh (left) and professional rugby player Teddy Iribaren (right) ended up with similarly busted-up faces as a result of their sporting endeavours at the weekend. But while video footage showed Iribaren's was an accident, the lack of evidence from the other incident means judgement must be reserved. Pictures: Twitter

SPOT the difference.

On the left is Sean Cavanagh. He was playing in the Tyrone senior football championship for his club, The Moy, against Edendork on Saturday.

In the first half, he went up for a kickout. As he came down with the ball, he clashed with an Edendork player.

The result for Cavanagh, whose game was instantly ended, was a broken nose, a concussion, a damaged cheekbone and some scratching and bruising.

Thankfully for him, a CT scan on his head came back clear, but it was a worrying and painful few hours after the game.

There are, at present, two versions of events from Dungannon.

On The Moy end, there’s anger about the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Claims have emanated from Edendork in response that it was accidental, and that their player was pushed and fell into Cavanagh.

They feel their version of events is strengthened by the fact that referee Kieran Eanatta, who showed 27 cards including six reds (although none of them straight) over the course of the game, took no action against the Edendork player.

In his account in the Tyrone Herald on Monday morning, local journalist Barry O’Donnell said of the incident: “Just days after his much publicised autobiography was launched, he was in the spotlight again in the first half after landing heavily on his face in an aerial tussle.

”The referee didn’t deem the incident malicious with no subsequent sanction meted out.”

None of that is to say the referee was right, or that those watching the game through a neutral eye got clear sight of what actually happened.

Nor is it to say that they were wrong.

It’s just that, without having viewed the video evidence, nobody can definitively say what happened.

This is not defending the actions of the Edendork man, and nor is it questioning Sean Cavanagh’s right to feel aggrieved.

It’s simply saying that you can’t judge what you haven’t seen.

And until such times as we can properly judge it, there has to be a presumption of innocence over guilt.

So what made a man with the savvy of former GAA president Seán Kelly tweet: “I’ve never seen anything like it on an @officialgaa field. Sean Cavanagh one of our greatest & finest stars.... Rise above it Super Sean. @SeanCavanagh9 @TyroneGAALive”.

He may well be proven right in time. But how much did he actually know about the incident before he took such a staunch position on it?

Given that, as of yesterday afternoon, Moy club officials still hadn’t seen the incident again, it’s highly unlikely that Kelly knew any more than any of the rest of us.

And he was far from the only one. In the race to be more outraged than the person before, there were high-profile people that should know better than jumping on the ‘this is a disgrace’ bandwagon without any knowledge of the facts.

Take a look at the picture on the right. That’s professional rugby player Teddy Iribaren with a busted up face, similar to Cavanagh’s.

He was playing in the French Top 14 for his club, Racing 92, when he made a tackle on Toulouse fly-half Romain Ntamack.

As Ntamack went out over the top of him, Iribaren was accidentally caught by his opponent’s loose boot. Anyone who’s ever seen the heavy, metal studs that rugby players wear will be in no doubt as to the damage they can do.

The result for Iribaren was a series of stitches from his eyelid to the top of nose, a black eye and a few bumps and scrapes on his forehead for good measure.

The two images are strikingly similar. And yet had the cameras not been present to broadcast the game, what assumptions about the incident would have been made on the basis of a photograph?

Contact sport is laced with perils. Injuries happen. And as long as they happen without malice or intent, then you just accept that it’s part of the game that you chose to play. Nobody goes into it blind.

But when there’s intent there, it’s a different story.

And that is where the GAA has its problem. Say, to widen the mix, Tyrone CCC reviews the footage of the row between Stewartstown and Strabane on Friday night and decides to dole out heavy punishments.

While reaction to it was perhaps slightly overblown given the volume of pulling and hauling compared to actual fighting, there are still a number of incidents in the video that are completely unacceptable.

The punch landed at the start of the video should merit a heavy suspension but anything more than the bare minimum – namely a one-match ban for striking – would have problems sticking if it’s appealed.

And so what you’ll end up with is a handful of short bans, almost to the point of being meaningless, and the two clubs will end up bearing the brunt of the CCC’s need to impart discipline.

They’ll be heavily fined or else have their pitches closed, punishments that no county board really wants to hand out, but ends up having to in a bid to try and deal with such incidents.

Ultimately, nothing draws violence in like a lack of accountability for it. You can wade into a row, flail away wantonly and, if you’re caught, you’ll maybe sit out a game or two.

It falls back on local bodies to deal with it but they’re hamstrung by the organisation’s rulebook. There has to be more leeway, and subsequent backing, given to those administering the punishments.

That applies across the board.

If it’s found that Sean Cavanagh’s injuries were as the result of a deliberate act, then the book should be thrown at the offending player.

But the book will only bounce back off him. Handing out a year’s suspension would be worthless if it doesn’t stick. And it won’t.

And that’s why we’re still seeing these scenes. It’s time the punishment fitted the crime – provided the crime can be proven.


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