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Monday 25 September 2017

Gleeson's great escape has left the GAA's disciplinary system back in the dock

The Gleeson incident
The Gleeson incident

How often have you heard the plaintive cry of the suspended Gael - or, speaking on his behalf, the player's mad-as-hell manager and incandescent county board?

"The rule is a joke! All we want is some fair play and consistency!" they chorus.

"I wouldn't mind our star man being suspended if he was guilty ... look, even if he is, and I'm only saying this hypothetically, kind of style, in case any Croke Park lawyers are eavesdropping ... you can't suspend him for that!

"Not when you didn't ban the other lot's star man for the exact same thing. As I said, no consistency. And even if there was, you can't ban him for the All-Ireland final!"

Curveball has lost count of the number of counties playing the 'inconsistency' card when key players are spotted misbehaving by a referee - or by the all-seeing TV cameras.

Which brings us to Austin Gleeson - an outrageously gifted hurler who walks the occasional disciplinary tightrope. None tighter than Sunday's.

For once, we suspect, everyone associated with this wonderfully defiant, driven and talented Waterford team is delighted there's "no consistency" in GAA suspensions.Otherwise, Gleeson would cut a forlorn figure on September 3, looking on from the stand as Waterford go chasing their first All-Ireland SHC title in 58 years.

Blame

And if that was the case, he'd have no one to blame but himself - not the CCCC, CHC, CAC, DRA, Luke Meade or the media, James Owens or The Sunday Game.

Instead, he can be thankful to referee Owens for his helpful match report clarification - and even more thankful to the unwritten GAA rule which decrees it is twice as difficult to make a potential ban stick for an All-Ireland final.

The rule itself - 'behaving in any way which is dangerous to an opponent, including deliberately pulling on or taking hold of a faceguard or any part of an opponent's helmet' - has become a recurring theme of this summer's hurling championship.

As headgear interference goes, this was as obvious as it comes. We spotted it high up in the Hogan Stand; the TV replays confirmed our immediate suspicions and more.

Incredibly, if a suspension had transpired, Gleeson would have become the third Waterford hurler in two months (after Stephen Bennett and Tadhg de Búrca) to be punished for this infraction.

Ignorance of the law is said to be no excuse ... but that scarcely applies in a scenario where every member of Derek McGrath's dressing-room already knew the ramifications of such behaviour.

De Búrca missed the semi-final against Cork for a breach that wasn't remotely so clearcut.

Any number of advocates insisted his tangling with the headgear of Wexford's Harry Kehoe was incidental and/or accidental.

The Waterford sweeper's problem was that he'd been issued with a straight red card and this automatically shifts the burden of proof from disciplinary committee to the player himself. Essentially he had to prove the "irrationality" of his suspension.

Whereas, in the Gleeson case, the ball was in the CCCC's court ... but it couldn't pursue any action once Owens, the Wexford referee in charge, clarified that he had adjudicated on the Gleeson/Meade incident on the day.

Timing, they say, is everything: leaving aside the de Búrca storm, the fact that Galway's Adrian Tuohy escaped similar censure a week earlier cannot be ignored.

We know where this leaves Gleeson - in the clear, and one can only presume he'll appreciate he is one very lucky Hurler of the Year. But where does it leave the GAA?

- It puts the association's disciplinary system itself in the dock. Specifically, it calls into question the lack of a citing process that can take retrospective action based on clear video evidence - irrespective of what a referee has seen or hasn't seen on the day.

- It provides more ammunition for those who seek to discredit this system. Diarmuid Connolly may have previously specialised in suspension reprieves - but would you blame him or anyone in Dublin for now citing the unfairness and inconsistency of it all?

- It places a huge question mark over the red card punishment for headgear interference. This rule has been depicted as too draconian and absolute ... but there were sound medical reasons for its introduction in the first place. Just ask Tipp's Declan Fanning, who required 25 stitches to an ear injury in 2010.

Everyone - even press box cynics who love a juicy story more than a joyous match - was aghast at the prospect of Gleeson missing out. But just because you wanted him to play doesn't make it right.

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