Antrim ace Matthew Fitzpatrick has "no trust" in GAA's disciplinary system after ban fiasco

‘OVERWHELMED’: Antrim’s Matthew Fitzpatrick (centre) was overwhelmed by the support he received over his controversial year-long ban that was subsequently quashed  		             Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
‘OVERWHELMED’: Antrim’s Matthew Fitzpatrick (centre) was overwhelmed by the support he received over his controversial year-long ban that was subsequently quashed Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

MATTHEW Fitzpatrick says he has no faith in the GAA’s disciplinary system after he had a controversial 48-week suspension quashed on appeal.

After Antrim’s Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal on Sunday, the Antrim ace broke his silence on his treatment by the GAA’s Central Competitions Controls Committee and the Central Hearings Committee over the past six weeks.

Speaking to The Irish News, Fitzpatrick revealed he still felt “on edge” and that he couldn’t trust disciplinary chiefs that his case was definitely over.

“I’ve never had a disciplinary hearing before and I got cleared twice and they came back again,” he said. “Even now, there is still a bit of me on edge because I don’t trust them; I don’t trust them that it’s over.

“I don’t know what way it works but I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to work like that. The whole thing really shocked me.”

Fitzpatrick was cleared to play against Donegal after the Central Appeals Committee [CAC] dismissed the case against the player who had been hit with a shock year-long ban for allegedly ‘misleading an investigation’.

The CAC found that the CCCC’s case against the St John’s man was flawed on a number of fronts.

The 22-year-old Sigerson Cup winner admitted the episode had caused him a degree of stress but he was “kept sane” by the overwhelming amount of support he received from friends, family, team-mates and opponents across the country.

“I had my bad days over the last few weeks but I had a lot of great support. I got a lot of texts from other counties, texts from Armagh players, Tyrone players, my mates from St Mary’s and obviously from Antrim.

“Everyone was behind me and they didn’t think it was fair – and that kept me sane.”

Fitzpatrick was reluctant to speak with the media prior to last Sunday’s Championship match with Donegal for fear of distracting the Antrim camp further.

“I felt I was being unfairly treated. [But] I didn’t want to cry and yap about it because I know people don’t care.

“People just want to read what’s happening but they don’t care. They didn’t want to be reading me [before the Donegal game] saying that I was unfairly treated and whinging.

“I’m grateful for all the messages of support because they did help me a lot because my head was completely fried.”

Fitzpatrick was having a storming game in the Antrim attack before he was stretchered off with an ankle ligament injury just before half-time.

“I’d no pressure on me,” he said.

“All I was worried about was being banned for a year and once that was taken away I didn’t really care. Nothing could be worse than being banned for a year, especially when I didn’t deserve it.

“Going into the game, my thought process was it can’t get any worse than this time last week. Regardless of what happened, I wanted to go out and enjoy myself.

“That’s what football is about – enjoying it. Success is great but if you’re not enjoying yourself you shouldn’t be doing it.”

Fitzpatrick, who could be sidelined for several weeks, paid tribute to Donegal’s “touches of class” throughout their 16-point win over the Saffrons but was confident they could bounce back in next month’s Qualifiers.

“We just need to learn from this and stick together. We don’t want people throwing the head up.”