ANYBODY who has been involved in a team sport, be it at elite or grassroots level, understands and accepts that if an agreed disciplinary code is breached, those who breached it must be dealt with. Otherwise, why have a code of conduct at all?
Punishments applied can vary wildly, depending on the level the particular group play at. Most clubs will not get rid of a player who is their main man, for example, simply because a manager knows that he needs him on the field. Therefore, clever club managers won’t back themselves into a corner by announcing, often early in the season, what measures they will apply if somebody is caught illicitly socialising later in the year. If the manager tells players what action he will take, prior to any infringement, then he has to follow through. Otherwise he will be undermined in front of the rest of the players. The problem for the manager arises when a player, whom realistically he cannot do without, breaks the rules.
More stringent rules can be applied at inter-county level where a manager has the pick of the elite players in the county. That said, if a player breaks the guidelines, he must be dealt with.
From the point of view of the Clare senior hurling panel, the fact that Davy O’Halloran has said publicly that another player was allegedly caught drinking by a selector but wasn’t punished, is a big issue. In any elite team environment, everyone must be treated equally.
After Saturday’s win over Dublin, Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald denied that “double standards” had been applied when dealing with panel members and a starting player. But the fact that O’Halloran said what he said has created doubt. What advantage was in it for him to make that claim unless he was certain of its accuracy?
O’Halloran’s decision to speak publicly on the issue has divided opinion. Some people feel he should have said nothing, while others laud his actions. Yet surely anybody feeling aggrieved over a development as serious and as high profile as this, is entitled to give their side of the story? O’Halloran has represented his club and county with admirable skill and aptitude, on the hurling and football fields. It took nerve for him to speak out. The player and the manager have had their respective says and the public can make up their own minds.
What has not been denied is the manner in which three Clare players were “punished” for their misdemeanours. Putting it simply, once it was ascertained that they had breached the rules, they should have been let go. It would have been much cleaner and a less disputable action to take. No amateur player, who gives up his time to represent this county, deserves to he isolated and humiliated.
It is stated quite clearly on the GAA website, under the association’s guidelines on bullying, that isolating people or individuals from a group constitutes a form of bullying.
It is described by the GAA as “indirect bullying; where the behaviour is more difficult to recognise, e.g. intimidation or isolation”.
The fact that the GPA has confirmed that they are investigating the issue means that it will drag on. In the short term, Clare should review their disciplinary code and realise that in a free society, this is no way to punish young men who are voluntarily giving their time to a sport which is so much part of the county’s fabric.
By Peter O’Connell