herald

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Court of public opinion could drive stars away

Connolly incident was minimal but he still has to look himself in mirror and reflect on actions

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly argues with linesman Ciarán Branagan during the Leinster SFC quarter-final against Carlow at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly argues with linesman Ciarán Branagan during the Leinster SFC quarter-final against Carlow at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Week 1 was the Aidan O’Shea fiasco, Week 2 was dominated by the failed drug test of Brendan O’Sullivan, and in Week 3 Diarmuid Connolly’s red mist descended and yesterday he was handed a proposed 12-week suspension by the CCCC following the incident with the linesman last Saturday.

Fans of other sports must be looking on thinking: ‘That GAA shower are all bonkers!’

All the media comment has focused on everything but the matches themselves over the last three weeks!

The suspension to Diarmuid Connolly will not have come as a surprise to all in Dublin GAA circles.

With recent bans handed down to Kieran McGeeney in Armagh and Evan Comerford it was inevitable that Connolly was going to be sanctioned.

Diarmuid Connolly is a big player. The bigger the player, the harder the fall in terms of scrutiny and public opinion. Regrettably, that is the reality in any top sport.

I know from my own experience that if you put yourself central to flashpoints in big games, there will be a time when the blue lights come flashing and eventually the big brass in GAA headquarters will catch up with you.

look in the mirror

I have said in this column before, as a player you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself could you have handled the situation differently?

Diarmuid will know upon reflection that his actions had the potential to land him in hot water. Privately, I suspect he will regret what happened.

Yes, you can point to mitigating circumstances and the fact that the incident was relatively minor but the rules are not on his side in this case. The mitigating  circumstances will no doubt form the basis of an appeal from Dublin. What was included in the referee’s report? If it was, why was no action taken at the time by the officials?

Were they influenced by the fall-out that resulted following the incident and they felt they needed to change their minds?  What was the detail of communication between the CCCC and the referee following the submission of his report?

You would also like to think the officials did consider that if it was a lesser-known player from either county involved in the same incident and it had not garnered the same attention, would they be taking the same action?

All this detail will come out in the weeks ahead no doubt.

However, the incident is what it is and the rules were broken, thus the suspension has been proposed. You cannot aggressively approach or interfere with an official and nobody can disagree with that.

There has to be strong rules there to protect officials. If they were not, our games would be a farce.

The punishment of three months for minor interference does appear harsh. A huge category of offences could fall under the definition of “minor interference”. Many players’ managers actually put their hands on officials when remonstrating with them in a constructive manner. Some do not even realise what they are doing could be in breach of the rules. 

Every player can get wound-up, particularly if you are getting mauled by three players arguing over a sideline ball. Connolly was fired-up leading to an aggressive tone but the contact with the official was still minimal.

Connolly has been an integral part of this Dublin winning team of the last six years. One of the best footballers to grace the county jersey, he is the template that young kids strive for in terms of skill and talent.

Whatever way the appeal might go, Diarmuid needs to take the this incident and turn it into a positive. His energies need to be channelled in a different way and his focus needs to change to what he does best. Could that change his make-up as a footballer? Yes possibly. But he has the talent to overcome that challenge and continue to be one of the best footballers of his generation.

This episode will really test Jim Gavin’s man-management skills in the coming months. Dublin need to approach this issue in a mature manner and if the suspension is upheld, it must be accepted for what it is.  

Players and managers sometimes see the red mist. Everyone is entitled to make a mistake. We, the general GAA public, also need to respect that. I fear we are moving into a dangerous space where the court of public opinion will drive the top players away from our game.

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