The Boot Room: Matthew Fitzpatrick free to do what he does best - The Irish News
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The Boot Room: Matthew Fitzpatrick free to do what he does best

Antrim's Matthew Fitzpatrick has been cleared to play against Donegal

OVER the last six weeks Matthew Fitzpatrick has felt like walking away from the GAA and returning to his soccer roots.

You can imagine the prospect of playing with his friends at Amateur League club Immaculata having renewed appeal in recent times.

A few years ago, he was a promising central defender with Irish League club Glentoran.

He only played Gaelic football because some of his friends did.

His rise over the last 12 months has been remarkable.

Regarded as one of the best young talents to come out of Antrim, he won a Sigerson Cup with St Mary’s only a few months ago.

He told Paddy Tally that no matter what happens for the rest of 2017, it’s been one of the best years of his life.

Little did he know that the GAA disciplinary authorities would make the last six weeks a hellish time.

‘Fitzy’, as he is known, is a bit of a character.

I interviewed him for the first time at Antrim’s Championship press night at O’Donnell’s GAC last year.

He was hilarious.

He explained St John’s club-mate Patrick McBride was only getting on the team because he was Gearoid Adams’s brother-in-law.

He joked about how his goal celebration in the Division Four final loss to Louth a couple of weeks earlier went horribly wrong.

With mock dismay, he explained: “I lost a bit of composure with my celebration. I had one planned but I fluffed my lines. I just gave it the old ‘Yaaaah’ [punching the air]. I was going to do ‘The Dab’...”

Fitzpatrick single-handedly restored my faith in GAA press nights.

Everybody in the GAA knows Fitzpatrick’s recent disciplinary story by now.

He’s fast become a euphemism for ropey CCCC decisions.

On unreliable video evidence, he was cited for an alleged altercation with an Armagh player at the end of a Division Three game. He beat the charge twice, thanks to Joe Edwards.

Edwards, a veteran disciplinary chief of Antrim, shredded the CCCC case with consummate ease on both occasions.

Maybe it was the temerity of Joe that they didn’t like.

When the CCCC produced clearer video footage for the third hearing – which they had in their possession nine days before the second hearing but didn’t reveal it – Fitzpatrick identified himself.

A potential one-match ban – which would have been challenged – morphed into a 48-week ban for allegedly ‘misleading an investigation’.

Only in the GAA.

Despite being instructed by the Central Hearings Committee to “end” their enquiries, the CCCC, in its unique wisdom, continued to pursue Fitzpatrick with renewed vigour.

And they lost the run of themselves.

Joe Brolly was recruited for legal assistance and he punched a couple of dozen holes in the CCCC’s case.

Joe’s fee is a pint of Guinness. He insists on this contract being fulfilled at the Antrim County Board’s earliest convenience.

Now that ‘Fitzy’ is free to play in Sunday’s Ulster Championship match against Donegal, the last six weeks leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

It’s been an embarrassing week for Antrim officialdom.

The startling fact that it was Fitzpatrick’s own county board that gave his name to the CCCC had every administrator in the country sniggering at this foolhardy approach.

It’s noteworthy too that the player wasn’t always accompanied by a county board member on each of his four visits to Dublin.

The apathy was maddening.

It created the sense Fitzpatrick was cut adrift – a defenceless minnow, fighting the indomitable tide of Croke Park bureaucracy.

Thank heavens for Joe Edwards,

Frank Fitzsimons and Pat Hughes, co-manager and backroom team member, both of whom were with their player every step of the way.

But ‘It’s only Antrim’ was the refrain we’ve all heard over the last few days.

An “easy touch” was Joe Edwards’s apt description.

It wasn’t like it was a Dublin player or a Kerry player appearing in the big house four times over a six-week period.

The entire episode created the impression among GAA folk that this kind of thing would never happen in one of the bigger counties.

The sceptics cry about refereeing decisions always favouring the big teams.

In light of Matthew Fitzpatrick’s case, can this be extended to committee rooms?

And what happens now?

What’s the CCCC’s sanction for the way they conducted their case?

Are all the names that sit on the CCCC going to be issued to the media in the same way Fitzpatrick’s name was and how it was implied that he did not tell the truth?

That he was a young man of untrustworthy character.

Where is Fitzpatrick’s compensation?

Do the CCCC issue apologies? Or do they just close the book and move on?

Fitzpatrick (22) is a teacher with a reputation to uphold. He returned home from three of his four trips to Dublin at 3.30am. He had to be in class less than six hours later each time.

Has the CCCC heard about the technological advancements in video links? Or are they not confessional enough?

It’s worth remembering Joe Edwards’s words on the demanding discipline of administrating justice in the GAA.

He said: “Over the years, I’ve been involved in conversations with Dan McCartan and Frank Murphy – the top rules-based people in the country – and I’ve been invited to seminars.

“I’ve learned the whole disciplinary process is about getting a fair outcome.

“It’s not about winning, it’s not about losing; it’s about getting a fair outcome. And that, until Wednesday night, did not happen [to Matthew Fitzpatrick].”

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