Eight game closure means no hurling in North Belfast for first two months of club season

Committees make their point by closing Hightown

By Liam Murphy

Now that the GAA inter county season has ended, apart from some county finals and provincial championships, the pendulum switches to off-field activities. This is the committee season where rules and regulations are pored over and discussed in great detail. Not least among them will be the latest offerings on discipline. Ah! Discipline. The GAA takes discipline very seriously. They seek to control the games efficiently. It could be argued that they do this very well. However, consistency is another matter altogether.

Discipline is in the first case a matter for referees, with or without the help of other match officials. Therefore, it is important that referees are properly assessed. At national level, 56 referees were used in the National Football League. The number was whittled down to 18 for the championship. An assessor attends every game and submits an assessment form to Croke Park. The referee starts the game with a rating of 100 points. For every perceived mistake a point is deducted. If he finishes with a score of 80 or more he is satisfactory but it is believed that by and large these assessments are rarely looked at unless something contentious happens during a game and is reported in the media. Then there is the matter of the competency of the assessors. Like referees themselves they are good, middling and poor. The assessment is only one part of the process, as is the fitness tests and written examinations on the rules. It’s the job of the committee to select referees.

Referees are only part of the process. They submit their reports and that is when the fun begins. Certain committees scrutinise these reports and act as they see fit. They can ask for “clarification” of the report.

Committees need to have some matters to consider or else they will be disbanded.  That is one of the reasons why consistency is not a factor. Every case is considered on its merits. Kerry’s Marc O’Shea was handed a four week ban for striking Eoghan O’Gara in their league match with Dublin earlier in the year. Similarly Meath’s Brian Farrell served four weeks for being involved in a tussle with a Kildare player in which he “probably” struck him in May. No nonsense!

This is the CHC (Central Hearings Committee) we are talking about, not to be mixed up with the CCC, the CAC or the DRA. Yet this austere body showed they had a human touch after all when referee Maurice Deegan showed a red card to Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly for striking a Donegal player in the All Ireland Football semi final. The CHC, bearing in mind that he might miss the final and that would be harsh on an amateur player (ah!), cleared him, making a mockery of their stance earlier in the season.

It has been suggested that as this committee’s life is drawing to a close as President Cooney’s tenure ends, that they were anxious to be seen as fair-minded people. And who knows, some of them might well be selected for other committees in the future.

Here in Antrim as in other counties we have a CCC and a CHC (County Hearings Committee). One matter which took up a considerable amount of time in recent times was events which occurred at the end of a hurling championship match at Ballymena between St Enda’s and McDermott’s. Among the sanctions recommended by the Hearing Committee, which according to Croke Park “should consist of experienced past and present members (excluding current members of the Management and Competitions Control Committee” (it gets complicated doesn’t it?), was the proposed closure of St Enda’s home ground, Hightown, for eight senior matches, hurling and football, even though the footballers, other than the dual players, were not in attendance.

In the event of an appeal the CCC sends all the relevant documentation to the CHC. Again according to Croke Park regulations, “The Proposed Penalty must be “blacked out” on the copy of the Notice of Disciplinary Action forwarded to the Hearings Committee.” This is to help to eliminate the influence that the Proposed Penalty might have on the minds of the Hearings Committee. If they find the Infraction proved, they must fix a penalty on the basis of what has been presented to them and not what was proposed by especially in high profile cases (and often because the Defending Party or his Club/County discloses it): that will not invalidate the proceedings but is undesirable.”

The outcome of the appeal from the CCC to the CHC (!) was that St Enda’s were told their ground would be closed for the first eight hurling league games, which must therefore be played away. As I was not at the game I cannot say whether the ban is merited or not. I repeat that the events being considered  happened in Ballymena.

However, had this fixture been played at McDermott’s home venue would they have taken similar action? Even the GAA’s CCC can’t close a public park. The outworkings of the wisdom from the CCC and the CHC, is that there will be no senior hurling matches in North Belfast next year, as unfortunately Ardoyne Kickhams have not yet had the council pitch at the ‘Cricky’ brought up to match standard by Belfast City Council after years of discrimination. The St Enda’s club will actually open their two new pitches next year, but will not be permitted to host league fixtures on them.

At a time when it has been demonstrated that there is a gross under provision of Gaelic pitches in Belfast, the County Board have effectively closed three available pitches to senior hurling for a full year.

Indeed this is at a time when there is an indepth review of what can be done strategically to improve the game of hurling in the city, (there is only one Belfast club in Division 1 of the All County league at present)  Closing all pitches to hurling in North Belfast seems to be the starting point.

I remember a St Enda’s player losing an eye in a game at Casement Park. The relevant committee carried out “extensive deliberations”. I don’t think that venue was closed.

However, there’s a good side to this as well. The St Enda’s ground needs refurbished and assistant groundsman Mickey Lemon will now get the job done. The same rain will fall on the public  park, open to everyone, and Hightown, closed to the people who laboured against loyalist intimidation and who suffered the murder of their  members for many years, and to whom it belongs. All Saints ground in Ballymena will also share God’s gifts.

As the Arabs say, “The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens.” Thank God, none of these committees control the rain. When the new turf in the goalmouth areas mature, at least the Hightown ground will have consistency.

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