Sad to see referee not being backed after genuine error

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

One of my favourite vantage points to watch a game is between the dug-outs on the sideline in O'Kennedy Park, especially if two New Ross District teams are pitted together in the Tom Doyle Supplies Senior football championship.

I was there Saturday night and really enjoyed the fare served up by Horeswood and St. James' in their drawn encounter, but a frustrated figure on the far side of the field was denied the chance to assist his club for a reason I find impossible to understand.

Just when I think I've seen and heard it all in the G.A.A., along comes a disciplinary case that leaves me completely baffled and wondering why players are treated with such disdain by officialdom.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me state that I'm very well acquainted with the two chief protagonists in this story, P.J. Banville and Billy Dodd.

P.J. is a work colleague and someone I share office space with three days per week, while Billy is a valued friend of long standing, and a fellow Sarsfields clubman.

On the last day of April at the same venue, referee Billy sent-off P.J. on a straight red card in Horeswood's game against St. Martin's, but he realised soon after that he had made a big mistake.

The best way for this story to proceed is for me to quote directly from the letter Billy attached to his match report which was submitted to the County Board two days later on May 2:

'I sent off one of the Horeswood players PJ Banville with a straight red card under the rule of striking with the hand with minimum force.

'On reflection immediately after the sending off and after the game I feel that the red card may have been harsh under the circumstances.'

Billy went on to explain that Banville was involved in a clash with Jack O'Connor who was booked for his part in the same incident.

He allowed play to continue under the advantage rule and followed the flight of the ball, but added that the players continued to push each other. And when he looked back, Billy saw P.J's hand making contact with Jack O'Connor's face.

And now comes the most interesting part of the letter, as Billy wrote: 'The circumstances were unusual in that PJ's jersey had been pulled over his head and he could not see what he was doing. I feel now that he was disorientated and it was a natural reaction to flail his arms out as a means of self protection.

'What I saw was a hand connecting with the opponent's face and followed the rules of the game. Under the circumstances I now feel that there was no intent in the player's mind and that the connection was more likely accidental.'

So there you have it, a player sent-off in the wrong, and a referee having the courage to admit it. I saw the incident with my own two eyes and agree wholeheartedly with every word of Billy's explanation.

Surely it was an open and shut case then, and you would assume P.J. was exonerated when he sought a hearing with the County Board's disciplinary body. Why would there be any other outcome?

That's the question I cannot answer because, to my complete and utter disbelief, the one-game ban for Banville was upheld even though the committee had this letter at their disposal.

An appeal to the Leinster Council also failed to overturn the suspension, but the focus here must remain on our own Hearings body and their bizarre and unacceptable handling of this case.

What sort of message does it send out to referees when one of their own doesn't receive backing after being strong enough to admit a mistake? A couple of people emerge from this sorry saga with flying colours, firstly Billy for having the common decency to accept he made an error, and secondly Jack O'Connor who attended the local hearing in support of P.J. in the middle of his busy inter-county hurling schedule. He certainly wouldn't have done that if he had been on the receiving end of an intentional box in the jaw, but he knew the dismissal was wrong too.

I spent five years on the disciplinary committee many moons ago, so I'm not ignorant to the protocol involved. I think the people responsible for making this abominable decision should take a long, hard look at themselves both individually and collectively. A player, club and referee were let down badly by their actions.

Wexford People

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