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21 February 2008 Edition

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Matt Treacy

Failure to enforce rules may lead to bigger problems down the line

Given the alacrity with which the Cork County Board accepted the invitation to enter binding arbitration, few could have predicted the scale of the victory which Kieran Mulvey’s decision actually conferred on the players. They won the battle over Holland and the method of selection and the right to have players representatives as part of the team selection process. In return all they had to concede was the promise never to strike again once the decision was accepted. A bit like getting a child to agree to stop hitting granny once she’d handed over the sweets.
It was the equivalent of a sound thrashing on the field and some were not inclined to hide their humiliation. Sacked football manager Teddy Holland issued a defiant statement declaring that he would not step down and that it was up to the County Board to sack him if they so choose. Something which they did on Monday evening, as they were obliged to according to the arbitration.
In fairness to Holland he has the right to feel aggrieved and he was not shy about letting people know what he thought of the whole affair. Nor of the players who had forced him out. He referred to their performance in last September’s All Ireland final defeat by Kerry as “ – the most chaotic, abject capitulation in the history of Cork football.” He then went on to hope that the players might come to imbibe the qualities he had hoped to instil in them in order to turn them into winners. Oh, and that he had been intending to bring in as many as 12 new players to replace some of those who had let the side down! Indeed some observers believed Holland intended to make an even cleaner sweep of Billy Morgan’s Nemocentric panel.

And Holland’s defiance was not the only factor threatening to take the gloss off the new era of sweetness and light by the Lee. Both Meath and Dublin let it be known that they would not be available to play the games that had been postponed. This left the Central Competitions Control Committee in a bit of a bind as they prepared to meet on Tuesday to decide what to do.
Chairman Jimmy Dunne said that while “technically” a county could be disqualified if it refused to fulfil two fixtures, that the CCCC would be trying to find a way to “accommodate” Cork. In other words, how to let them play all of their remaining matches, and possibly re-schedule the ones they refused to play.
However, Dunne also admitted that there was no way the CCCC could force Meath, Dublin, Kilkenny or Waterford to play the missing games.
The GAA Rule Book is fairly explicit on the issue and even Frank Murphy would find it difficult to discover any obvious loopholes. Rule 136 sets the penalty for any county failing to fulfil a league match as a forfeit of the points and a €400 fine. There is no reference to disqualification here but Rule 118 (b) (ii) does set out that in the league stage of a county championship that a team failing to fulfil two consecutive fixtures is disqualified.
The letter and the spirit of the law ought to have dictated that not only would Cork lose the points for the games they refused to play but that they would also be “thrun out” as we say around these parts. The dilemma facing Croke Park, however, was how to reconcile the rules with the desire not to do anything that would further aggravate the situation and possibly provoke another action by the players, assuming that they would be upset at not playing in the league which they might not be given that up to last weekend they were threatening not to play anyway.
Close observers of the GAA apparat spent much of Tuesday poring over the personalities of the CCCC members, trying to predict what way they might go. Traditionally Dublin and Meath have not been the blue eyed boys among officials who might have certain prejudices in that direction and maybe even some history, but some shrewd judges thought that in this instance the apparatchiks might jump at the chance to put some manners on the players for having struck in the first instance.
As it happened they struck another compromise, following the letter if not the spirit of the rule book. The letter dictated that Cork forfeit the points to Dublin, Meath, Kilkenny and Waterford and pay a total of €1,600 in fines, but the CCCC did not take the logical – and fairest to the other teams in the leagues – step, of disqualifying them.
As it stands now, the above four teams have a definite advantage in points over their rivals for the play offs or to avoid relegation. That is certainly not fair to the footballers of Armagh, Cavan, Roscommon, Westmeath and Monaghan or the hurlers of Antrim, Dublin and Wexford.
Cork should have been treated in exactly the same manner as any club side in the same situation. If you refuse to play two consecutive games you are disqualified. From the humblest junior team to the elite that is the rule.
Failure to enforce it on this occasion may very well lead to others trying the same as Cork in the future. And with others with an entirely different agenda lurking in the background, watching every move.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
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