Chris Prendergast argues the GAA’s disciplinary system is inconsistent, unnecessarily harsh and altogether broken.
The purpose of imposing a ban on a player in any sport is two-fold. First and foremost the player must be punished for whatever his infringement. Secondly, and equally important, any punishment must act as a deterrent to other players. Simple right?
The introduction of the black card in football (supposedly) punishes players who commit cynical fouls. It also (supposedly) deters other players from committing cynical fouls. Every player out on the field of play wants to stay there. Therefore (inconsistent enforcement by the referees aside) the punishment is befitting, and the deterrent equally so.
However, the GAA, runs into massive difficulties where one: the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and two: it neither acts as a deterrent nor is it an entirely reasonable rule to impose on players.
Last year the GAA handed out its first ban for tweets sent by a player. Aaron Devlin received a 48-week suspension following the Derry County Final between Devlin’s Ballinderry Shamrocks and Slaughtneil.
Slaughtneil scored a controversial late goal to win the match 1-08 to 0-09. Following the match Devlin took to twitter to voice his feelings about the match officials, which he did using derogatory language. He later deleted the tweets.
The punishment did not end there for Ballinderry as two other club members, Michael Conlon and Gareth McKinless, also received 48-week suspensions and the club was prohibited from using its pitch for a year. Michael Conlon’s suspension has since been quashed, so too has the order prohibiting use of the pitch for adult games. Devlin’s suspension was first reduced to 24-weeks, before a final reduction imposed a suspension of 8-weeks.
Another similar incident arose in the Donegal championship where club player David White received a 24-week suspension for tweeting his disgust that the drawn-quarter final went to a replay, rather than extra-time the first day out. White tweeted his remarks to the Donegal GAA twitter account:
“@officialdonegal Absolute disgrace that there’s replays without playing et shame on yous money grabbing have yous no respect for players”
White however did not use any derogatory language; the ‘worst’ phrase amongst his tweet was “money grabbers”. Following an appeal the 24-week ban was halved to 12-weeks.
In contrast to the above circumstance, when Wexford goalkeeper Anthony Masterson questioned a last minute point by Limerick in the 2011 SFC fourth round qualifier he was ordered to apologise and in return for doing so, received no suspension. Masterson was interviewed immediately after the match and said Limerick’s winning score “looked like it was a yard wide.” The score in question had been waived wide by the umpire, but referee Derek Fahy overruled that decision. Masterson also made reference to Limerick and Wexford being treated like lesser teams and as such were given a “bad” referee.
Masterson was ordered to produce a written apology or face an 8-week suspension. Some of Masterson’s teammates took to twitter to express their dissatisfaction with both the referee and the controversy surrounding Masterson. However this social media activity went unpunished.
Last year following Brian Cody’s historic tenth All-Ireland victory as manager, he spoke out about his thoughts on the last minute free awarded to Tipperary by referee Barry Kelly during the drawn game on September 7th. The begrudgers were immediately out in force. How dare the most decorated manager in the history of the GAA express the truth of his opinion?
There were rampant calls for a punishment befitting such an audacious offence. However, in this circumstance the GAA found that Cody had not brought the game into disrepute. No harm, no foul, no apology necessary.
It raised an interesting point though; it is not just referees who are inconsistently enforcing different rules on different teams and different players. The GAA are handing out different punishments or no punishments at all, for essentially the same infringements.
Surely so long as a player, or manager, does not personally degrade or use derogatory language towards match officials, then they should be fair game in terms of receiving criticism. In situations where a reprimand is required, this must be proportionate to the offence. Referees, whether we like it or not, play a major role in each game; why shouldn’t they be open to the same scrutiny as everyone else?
Exceptional standards are expected of players and managers; higher standards should also be expected of referees. Where a player or manager expresses their opinion, especially where they do so following a match in which they have been involved, it hardly seems reasonable that they might have to sit out the next two or three months or possibly even the next year.
The GAA would do well to remember that the passion ingrained in each of these players is the driving force behind any comments made in anger or frustration. Without that passion there would be no GAA.
Chris Prendergast, Pundit Arena