GAA must enforce Armagh-Tyrone suspensions if they’re serious on stopping melees

FEARGAL LOGAN SET the tone when he spoke to reporters in the aftermath of Tyrone’s six-point defeat to Armagh, which was marred by the sending off of five players. 

Four men dismissed – Michael McKernan, Padraig Hampsey, Peter Harte, and Kieran McGeary – were on the Tyrone side and Logan confirmed they’d be appealing the suspensions. 

The GAA will examine David Gough’s report before issuing suspensions to the the four Tyrone players and Armagh’s Greg McCabe. 

It’s expected Gough dismissed the players for contributing to a melee or dangerous play, both of which are Category III offences that carry a minimum two-game ban.

Back in May 2018 at a media briefing, referees development chairman Willie Barrett let it be known that officials were instructed at a pre-championship seminar to crack down on additional players becoming involved in scuffles.

“We’ve seen a number of games where a melee has occurred and we’ve asked our referees to deal with it very strongly,” said Barrett at the time. “Where there are two players involved, it’s fine, the referee can deal with it, but where more players come in and add to that, it then becomes a melee.

“What’s a melee? Making a bad situation worse. So, we feel that we need to deal with that and we’ve given clear instruction to referees that red cards must be issued in those situations where players are coming in and you’re eventually seeing five or six or seven players involved.

“We would be particularly honing in on the first and second person into the melee, shall we say, after two players have been involved. We believe that’s causing other players to come in. Likewise in hurling, if it’s left to the two players and the referees and officials, there’s generally no difficulty.”

However, the unsightly melees have continued since then and referees rarely dealt with them as strongly as Gough did.

These days, melees can occur for a wide variety of reasons. Some teams use them tactically: to slow the game down, to distract the referee or to draw his attention to an incident they feel must be dealt with. 

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The all-in brawl at the end of the clash in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday wasn’t a good look for the GAA.

The actions taken by Gough were unusual in that he stood back, looked out for the players that made “a bad situation worse”, to use Barrett’s phrase, and followed the rulebook to the letter in dismissing five players. 

It’s no surprise to hear Tyrone are appealing the red cards. Kieran McGeeney’s post-match comments strongly suggest Armagh will follow suit. 

“Talking to Greg there, he feels hard done by,” said McGeeney.

“When you have a bit schemozzle like that there, it’s really hard to see. I’m sure everybody’s going to be looking at videos tonight and there’s going to be solicitors all over the place.”

Four Tyrone players are shown a red card for their involvement in a brawl.

Source: Philip Magowan/INPHO

The appeals process in the GAA is farcical. Suspensions are overturned on technicalities as lawyers find loopholes in the rulebook. Players who know themselves they’re guilty of an offence routinely escape punishment. It has long become a nationwide trend.

A system implemented by amateurs that’s challenged by legal professionals is fundamentally flawed.

A tweet from Eamon McGee in 2015 summed the flawed disciplinary system up: “Lost my appeal to the red card I got in club game. Irony: any appeal I’ve won in the past I was as guilty as sin. The one time I’m innocent, I lose.”

Following the infamous Battle of Omagh in 2006, when two major melees broke out in a league game between Tyrone and Dublin, four players were sent-off and nine were subsequently issues with suspensions. In the end, only the ban for Tyrone’s Collie Holmes stuck as both counties exploited ambiguity in the laws. 

The GAA’s high volume of successful appeals must supersede any other sport in the world.

If Croke Park are serious on stamping out melees, then they need to back Gough’s decision when the inevitable appeals come from both counties. 

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It could be argued that Hampsey and, to a lesser extent, McKernan appeared unlucky to receive straight reds. But if the Association does not enforce a number of suspensions, it will essentially send out the message that Gough’s decision to take strong action was wrong.

It will tell club and county players that mass brawls are still part of the game. 

As the number of referees decline to worrying levels across the country, failing to back Gough could have unwanted repercussions for officiating. 

“I’ve actually seen situations in club games in Kerry where referees have made calls (to send players off),” said Marc Ó Sé on The42 GAA Weekly. 

“Obviously a lot of club teams video their games. They’ve appealed, sent them into the CCCC and they’ve got off. What it’s done is it has disillusioned a lot of referees who are saying, ‘What’s the point?’ I know one or two referees in fact who’ve decided not to referee anymore. 

“By taking the decision away from them, maybe they feel they’re losing integrity in some way. It will be a huge thing to see what the GAA are going to do.

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“There will be appeals, Tyrone are certainly going to appeal. It will be very interesting over the next few days to see what’s going to happen there.”

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