Antrim were considered 'a soft touch' in Fitzpatrick case said former disciplinary chief Edwards
ANTRIM’S former disciplinary chief Joe Edwards has accused the GAA’s Central Competitions Controls Committee [CCCC] of becoming “obsessed” with trying to ban Antrim’s Matthew Fitzpatrick.
On Wednesday night, the Central Appeals Committee [CAC] dismissed the case against the player who had been hit with a shock 48-week ban for allegedly ‘misleading an investigation’.
Edwards claimed the CCCC saw Antrim as an “easy touch” and explained how the disciplinary body “slid from one bad decision to another”.
The experienced Edwards, who held the top disciplinary post in Antrim for nine years, insisted the CCCC “messed up” on the Fitzpatrick case, including failing to show new video evidence at the player’s second of three hearings.
The St John’s player appeared at three separate Central Hearings Committee [CHC] meetings over the last six weeks following an alleged incident in Antrim’s National League game against Armagh on March 25.
With the help of Edwards (above), Fitzpatrick won his case twice before being hit with a staggering 48-week ban at a third hearing on Monday night.
The Antrim management team and Fitzpatrick sought legal assistance from well-known barrister Joe Brolly ahead of Wednesday night’s successful appeal. The player is now free to play in Sunday’s Ulster Championship match against Donegal and faces no further disciplinary action.
Edwards said: “I firmly believe that they saw us [Antrim] as an easy touch. I’ve never, in my experience, seen this being done to another player.
“They [CCCC] took an innocuous incident on the sideline of a video they were looking at, something that happens so many times in every game and they picked it out.”
In a protracted case that moved away from the alleged infraction on the field of play to one of trying to identify the player through unreliable video evidence, Fitzpatrick insisted that he could not identify himself.
At the outset, Antrim’s county secretary confirmed to the CCCC that the player involved was Fitzpatrick.
However, clearer video footage was produced at Monday night’s third hearing and Fitzpatrick acknowledged, on the evidence presented to him, that he was the player at the centre of the incident.
He was then hit with a 48-week ban that was dismissed on appeal two nights later.
“We were entitled at every stage to protect that lad,” said Edwards.
“As it went on, the CCCC got frustrated and they obsessed over this case; they were determined to get him on something.
“I have sympathy for the CCCC up to a point. Their job is hard. But because it’s hard you have to take more care to do it. And they didn’t.
“In the first hearing he was freed because the CCCC did not comply with rules, therefore the case couldn’t proceed. In the second hearing, they did not prove their case and Matthew was exonerated.
“Remember, they always had the second video [in their possession on April 25] and they had the right to use it in the second case [on May 4, and didn’t], and this is why I’m so angry with them. They held that to ambush Matthew.
“There is no other explanation. They were anxious to get that lad to speak and say it wasn’t him.”
St Paul’s, Belfast clubman Edwards added: “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.”
According to Edwards, Fitzpatrick won his appeal because it was not the CCCC’s “right or preserve to do what they did. You can only bring charges and present a case for a field offence”.
As Fitzpatrick’s case developed, the alleged wrongdoing had moved far beyond the parameters of a football field and into a Hearings Committee room.
Fitzpatrick’s appeal submission registered 18 reasons for grounds for an appeal.
The CCCC could not be contacted for comment.