Antrim's Matthew Fitzpatrick hit by shock 48-week suspension
ANTRIM will appeal Matthew Fitzpatrick’s shock 48-week ban issued by the GAA’s Central Hearings Committee late last night.
It is understood the CHC cited the Antrim forward for “misleading the investigation” which carries a 48-week suspension.
The Saffrons will now look to appeal Fitzpatrick’s punishment to the Central Appeals Committee so he may still be available to face Donegal in Sunday’s Ulster SFC opener in Ballybofey.
Fitzpatrick was asked to appear in front of the disciplinary body for a third time last night.
The St Mary’s Sigerson Cup winner escaped censure on two previous occasions over an alleged incident at the end of Antrim’s NFL Division Three game with Armagh on March 25, but it is understood new evidence came to the attention of the CHC.
From video footage, GAA disciplinary chiefs asked the Antrim County Board to identify their player who was involved in an altercation with an opponent at the end of the game.
Antrim officialdom assisted in the GAA’s request but Fitzpatrick beat the charge twice on technical grounds.
The video footage was originally submitted by Armagh officials in a bid to defend one of their players but the same footage revealed another altercation between two opponents, which the CCCC decided to investigate.
The controversy created tension between the Antrim senior football panel and its county board.
Last night, joint boss Gearoid Adams said: “There was absolutely no attempt made to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes. I looked at the still footage and I could not identify the player. We will look to appeal this obviously.”
Prior to last night’s shock suspension, Antrim defender Declan Lynch hit out at the GAA’s disciplinary chiefs over their treatment of Fitzpatrick.
Speaking at last night’s Ulster Championship press event at O’Donnell’s GAC in west Belfast, Lynch said: “They need to show the player a bit of respect.
“When you win your appeal once and then you win it twice, and then you’re called back for a third time to Croke Park, I don’t think it’s fair to be put through that, especially in the week leading up to the Championship.”
Meanwhile, Adams praised the “professionalism” of former county board officer Joe Edwards in defending Fitzpatrick.
“I know Joe Edwards went down and fought a very tight case. I don’t know if he ruffled a few feathers there.
“I don’t know if there’s a precedent of the same guy being trialled three times. My issue with it is the welfare of Matthew Fitzpatrick. Mentally, he’s not in a good place because he’s ok one minute and the next he’s not playing.”
The Saffrons are grappling with a mini-injury crisis ahead of Sunday’s trip to Ballybofey.
Captain James Laverty has been ruled out along with Kevin O’Boyle, Conor Murray and Ryan Murray.
Chris Kerr and Patrick McBride sat out last night’s training session at O’Donnell’s GAC but both are expected to be fit the Donegal clash.
Kevin Niblock was also forced to step away from the Antrim panel due to an on-going knee injury.
But Adams was upbeat about the strength of the Antrim panel.
“It makes room for some of these younger boys coming through,” he said.
“I’ve been saying it all year, whether we were forced to or we wanted to, we were going to look at the younger boys at some stage.”
Peter Healy, Patrick Gallagher, Stephen Beatty, Conor Hamill, Brendan Bradley, Jack Dowling and Declan Lynch have all had excellent League campaigns.