Dermo gets a tough press - Duffy
Appeal structures are 'fit for purpose', says chief
Amid the thousands of words penned about that disciplinary saga and that marathon DRA hearing, Páraic Duffy makes a point that will resonate with many Dublin supporters.
"I think Diarmuid Connolly maybe gets a tough press sometimes," reckons the GAA's director-general.
Duffy was speaking at a media briefing on his report to Congress. Inevitably, the furore that greeted Connolly's successful foray to the Disputes Resolution Authority - which resulted in the rescinding of his red card against Mayo and clearance to play in last year's All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay - featured in Duffy's latest annual review.
Yet the Monaghan man was not about to join the chorus of complaint. While he expressed surprise at the 2-1 majority decision of that DRA panel, he steadfastly refused to criticise it.
Instead, he went on the offensive against commentators who cited the controversial Connolly judgement as proof that the GAA's disciplinary structures are no longer "fit for purpose".
"This disciplinary system is very fair to the player, allowing him every opportunity to have his case dealt with fairly. It also reduces the likelihood of an injustice being done to a player," Duffy writes.
"A statistical analysis of the decisions emerging from this system confirms that it works well. In the past five years (2011-2015), the CCCC has proposed 1,132 penalties arising from inter-county games.
"Arising from this, 146 players have sought hearings in order to challenge proposed penalties. In 50 instances, the proposed penalty has been overturned. Three cases have gone all the way to the DRA. In only one of those cases over the past five years - that of Diarmuid Connolly in 2015 - has the penalty been overturned.
"From the outcry that greeted the decision in the Diarmuid Connolly case, one might conclude that players are routinely going to the DRA to have penalties lifted. The facts tell us otherwise.
"Commentators were entitled to question the DRA decision in respect of Diarmuid Connolly (although one wonders if the outcry would have been as great if the player was someone other than Diarmuid Connolly), but it was nothing less than lazy headline-seeking commentary to use this to suggest that our disciplinary structures are not fit for purpose."
Expanding on this point, the director-general reiterated: "One case in five years. Genuinely, until I went and researched that at the time, I would have thought from the things that were being said - not by journalists, by commentators - as if our rules are not fit for purpose, our disciplinary structures are a mess, all of that.
"The point I am making is that the furore wasn't justified. Now, I did say I was surprised at the decision.
"I think Diarmuid Connolly maybe gets a tough press sometimes. I felt a little bit of sympathy for the player because I felt that it affected his (replay) performance."
And yet, some of those commentators will counter-argue that this issue is much bigger than Connolly; that there has been a mounting difficulty in making suspensions stick at the business end of the senior inter-county championships.
Ironically, Mayo have twice achieved benign August outcomes in front of the Central Hearings Committee, with red cards for Lee Keegan (against Kerry in 2014) and Kevin Keane (against Donegal last year) both rescinded in hugely controversial circumstances.
While Duffy accepted that this backdrop was "probably all part of it", he insisted: "You cannot draw broad conclusions based on one or two cases, not to the point of denigrating our structures.
"In fact, we have done a fantastic job over recent years, nothing to do with me - people like Micheál O'Connell, Frank Murphy, Liam Keane. The late Gerry Brady, I suppose, started the process, in bringing a much fairer process of discipline ... it's much, much fairer."
When reference was made to the dissenting minority judgement of Meath-based solicitor Brian Rennick (who described the Connolly decision as "fundamentally wrong"), Duffy replied: "All I am saying is I was surprised at the decision, but I also pointed out that I have often been surprised at decisions by courts and other bodies and so on ... that will happen in any system that depends on people from time to time.
"We all have experience of it. I accept in this case it was a 2-1 decision, that's all in the public domain, but I am not going to criticise anyone on it and I am certainly not going to criticise the DRA. The DRA is an institution that does a fantastic job for us."