herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Bitegate: No bans and no winners

SO, just a few days after opening in a blaze of publicity, 'Bitegate III' fails to get a studio release and is consigned to the dusty shelves of your nearest dilapidated, and soon-to-be-closed, video store.

There was an inevitability that this is how the story would end, especially once The Sunday Game first aired its unseemly yet thoroughly inconclusive footage of the Leinster final melee - accompanied by RTE's grand jury of three wise men pronouncing their initial judgement that there was no case to answer.

On Tuesday night, the news broke that Meath had no desire to pursue their own claim that Mickey Burke was bitten, leaving Croke Park's disciplinary watchdog, the Central Competitions Control Committee, with only one decision to make.

Insufficient evidence. Case closed.

So are there winners in all this? You might be tempted to say Dublin and Eoghan O'Gara, now free to concentrate on an All-Ireland SFC quarter-final without fretting over the lingering threat of suspension or the mentally draining sideshow that such sagas invariably become.

In truth, though, there are none. This has been a damaging affair for everyone involved. As for diplomatic relations across the Maginot Line of the Dublin/Meath border ... well, Russia and Ukraine spring to mind!

THE FALLOUT: DUBLIN

Jim Gavin's squad has now been embroiled in three different allegations of biting in the last 15 months. Just one player has been suspended as a result of the various disciplinary inquiries that followed, so Dublin will doubtless maintain that we're talking one case, not three.

Be that as it may, there is no escaping the fact that Dublin's much-trumpeted commitment to playing by the rules has suffered serious damage in the process. Given the historic dearth of such cases on the national stage, it's hard to fathom that the same squad has been mired in three separate controversies in such a short space of time. After all, it's not as if there's a Luis Suarez in our midst.

That said, even though this is the first of the three cases to contain video and photographic evidence of the flashpoint, the pictures don't offer any black-or-white clarity and instead cloak the controversy in grey.

Whatever damage Eoghan O'Gara inflicted upon Mickey Burke, it is clear that the prostrate Dublin forward was subject to intense physical provocation at the time. A player thus cornered, his jersey being reefed and a hand grabbing aggressively around his face, is bound to instinctively react.

That shouldn't exonerate O'Gara of all culpability for there is an onus on players, even when provoked, to behave in a manner that isn't reckless to an opponent.

This controversy will eventually fade, but the treble-whammy wound to Dublin's reputation will linger. Here is a team that plays the most thrilling brand of football in recent memory, a team that hasn't picked up a single black card in league or championship; yet a team that accumulated three straight red cards during the league and has now been embroiled in three biting allegations. They have lost the right to preach from the high moral ground.

THE FALLOUT: MEATH

After a day of on-field infamy for Meath, the aftermath hasn't got a whole lot better for the routed Royals.

Mick O'Dowd had remarked approvingly beforehand on the absence of any post-match "whingeing" when Meath and Dublin do battle - and then ignored this unwritten rule within minutes of the full-time whistle last Sunday.

On this occasion you can understand O'Dowd's reason for breaking the 'code of omerta' - biting has no place in civilised society or even uncivilised sporting combat - but if you're going to make such a highly-charged accusation, you'll be left looking pretty foolish if you don't follow through.

It's obvious that either the alleged victim didn't want to pursue the matter, or Meath as a collective entity reached the same conclusion on mature reflection, or both.

Moreover, it's impossible to ignore the suspicion that self-preservation was central to the decision-making process ... up to three Meath players, Burke included, could have come under the disciplinary microscope with potential suspension ramifications for their upcoming qualifier against Armagh.

And that, sadly, is the bottom line when it comes to the GAA - and many other team sports, for that matter. Looking after number one, not the integrity of your sport, is the name of the game.

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