STEVIE Murtagh from the Watty Grahams club says I am now 1/5 on to win the Pat Convery Clubman of the Year Award. Which would be the first time in its history the prestigious trophy has been presented to an outsider. I would probably have to do what our own Colm McGuigan did when he got a medal for bravery from the Queen and send it back. It’s the thought that counts.
Rule 6.44 of part 1 of the GAA Rules tells us that where “a team exceeds the number of players permitted” and the opposing club objects, then there are only three options: 1. Award of the game to the other team 2. A replay 3. A fine. Which one of those three options is chosen is “depending on the circumstances.”
The rule also allows the GAA to do this without any input from the club. But instead of protecting the integrity of the rules and their own reputation, the GAA forced the decision on to the Wattys GAA community.
Crokes had 17 players on the field for that critical last play. Paul Mannion had strayed onto the field over the sideline which is a technical breach and would qualify for a fine. But when Dara Mullin was substituted, he stayed on the field and took up a position on the goal line to defend that vital last play. From the previous play, the Wattys had almost scrambled a goal. For the last play, the goal line was sealed off and Kilmacud had the luxury of defending it with 16 men. Wattys full-back Ryan Dougan almost got a flick on the snap-shot to direct it towards the goal, missing by inches. Had he connected, it might well have been Dara Mullin who saved it. Not only was he interfering with play (this is not a recognised concept in our rules) but crucially, he continued to play a part in the game having been substituted. This is a blatant breach of a fundamental rule. The team, not the officials, bear the responsibility for making sure the rule is followed. Kilmacud are at fault.
For me, awarding the game to the Wattys would be dishonourable and unsporting. Therefore, a replay is the correct remedy.
Let us say this had happened in one of the epic finals between Dublin and Mayo. In 2016 and again in 2017, Mayo lost agonisingly by a point. If a Dublin player had been substituted with a minute to go, when Mayo were throwing everything into forcing an equaliser, and instead of going off he stationed himself at the heart of the Dublin defence, what would have happened? There would have been uproar in the global GAA community. The GAA would immediately have made a statement saying:
“We are extremely concerned that from the 72nd minute onwards, Dublin appear to have had 16 players taking an active role in the game. The Committee in Charge has been notified and will be carrying out an urgent investigation. We would like, on behalf of the association, to apologise to both teams and the wider GAA community. The Committee will announce its decision as to the remedy to be imposed as quickly as possible.”
Of course, there would be 82,300 good reasons for that. Also, Mayo are powerful. In this case, the GAA abdicated its responsibility and instead shifted it onto this small rural community, hoping they would just leave it. This caused great and understandable anger throughout the country. Why, when the rule has so obviously been flouted, has the GAA morally blackmailed the Wattys? Why have they not simply used their power to order a replay, where the best 15 wins?
The Wattys have now simply put the responsibility back where it belongs. The GAA’s responsibility is to the integrity of the game and the GAA community. They ought not be allowed hide away from that.
Because they tried to hide from it, they have brought us into disrepute. The IRFU must be astounded by what they are seeing. It is open season now. In the North, Gaels are saying it’s anti northern bias. People all over the country are saying if it was the other way round, Kilmacud would already have their replay without having to do a thing. Maghera’s sponsor is, after all, the local Spar shop. Kilmacud’s meanwhile is the Beacon Hospital Group. The Beacon is described as “one of the most technologically advanced private hospitals in all of Europe.” With 1300 consultants, it is owned by the billionaire Denis O’Brien.
In 1998, the referee blew up the All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Clare and Offaly three minutes early, with Clare three points up. When the error was discovered, a replay was ordered, Clare lost and Offaly went on to win the Liam McCarthy.
I have heard some people saying the Wattys objection is unsporting. Really? In 2005, the Kilmacud manager Robbie Brennan played with Dunboyne in their Meath semi-final against Navan O’Mahoneys. They lost. Turns out Navan made a technical error. They brought on an extra substitute. Not a 16th man. An extra substitute. That substitute did not touch the ball. Dunboyne – you guessed it – objected and Navan were thrown out of the competition. Dunboyne went on to win the final. Administrators administrate, players play.
Now that Glen have objected to this flagrant breach of the rules, the GAA have very little choice but to order a replay. A fine would establish a very dangerous precedent, since it would be the green light to managers to throw on two or three subs at the death and let them take their chances.
The only honourable course is a replay, this time with 15 v 15. In that event, I look forward to receiving the Pat Convery Trophy, regardless of the result.