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'It Would Never Have Happened If It Was Someone From Dublin Or Kerry'

'It Would Never Have Happened If It Was Someone From Dublin Or Kerry'

It was a week of worry and then relief for Matthew Fitzpatrick. The Antrim footballer was handed a 48-week suspension by the GAA late on Monday night. By Wednesday night, that ban had been overturned with the help of Joe Brolly.

Speaking Newstalk's Off The Ball on Thursday, Brolly called the whole episode 'embarrassing' and suggested that a Dublin or Kerry footballer would never have been put through such an ordeal.

Fitzpatrick had been suspended due to the GAA's Central Hearings Committee saying he had given 'deliberately false evidence and deliberately misled the hearing'.

Antrim immediately decided to appeal the decision and put out the bat signal for Brolly on Tuesday.

The Derryman said that his fee when it comes to taking GAA disciplinary cases is a pint of Guinness. However, this was not something which joint Antrim manager Frank Fitzsimons and his team were aware of when they recruited the barrister.

Brolly related the scene where he told Fitzsimons it would only cost him a pint of the black stuff. It was story which greatly amused the Off The Ball team.

You should have seen the Antrim boys. Frankie Fitzsimons and the Antrim management are sitting there and I was quoting a bit of Latin for the craic. I was just putting on a bit of a show in front of them.

Then they said, 'Look, what about money?' I said, 'Look, boys, I'm not going to lie to you, my fee is a pint of Guinness.'

They brought over a pint of Guinness and I drank the pint of Guinness. I could overhear Fitzsimons saying, 'Jesus, thank fuck for that.'

I had just come from work and I was wearing the full suit. I was looking like one of Mr. Burns' lawyers.

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Brolly believes those involved in the debacle, on the GAA side, should resign.

I would say, I genuinely mean this, I think the Central Hearings Committee, the people who were involved in this committee ought to resign. They ought to step down. I think it was unconscionable what happened.

There was a vindictive side to this. It was not justice or anything like it.

Fitzpatrick's disciplinary ordeal began when he was cited for an off the ball incident involving an Armagh player during a Divison 3 National League game in late March.

That was an ill-tempered game, one which saw three players sent-off and Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney receive a 12-week ban for an incident with linesman Joe McQuillan.

During the disciplinary process following that game, it was spotted that there was a possible altercation involving an Antrim player. The GAA asked that Antrim county board identify the player.

Initially, there was some confusion because they thought it was Conor Murray but it couldn't be Conor Murray because he'd already been sent off.

The Antrim secretary, you couldn't make this stuff up, he sent them an email saying that he thought it was Matt Fitzpatrick.

I made him come to the conference the other night and he was there sitting across the table from Matt and the senior management team, it was absolutely priceless.

When I first saw the clip, I thought this mustn't be it. I had to ring the boys and say, 'You must have sent me the wrong clip,' because there's no strike. It looks as though there's a small push at the top of the back.

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Fitzpatrick twice received a ban for the incident during the game against Armagh but successfully appealed on both occasions. His 48-week ban followed as a result of what occurred during those hearings.

One of Brolly's main issues with the handling of Fitzpatrick's case was the use of extended footage by the GAA.

They then cited him based on the email of the Antrim secretary. They brought him to a hearing. The CHC said it wasn't possible to identify anyone from the footage.

Very interestingly, three times during the course of that hearing they said to Matt, 'Are you aware that under Rule 7.3 that if you have given misleading evidence to us you could be liable for a 48-week ban?'

The day after he was exonerated of the striking infraction, the CCCC went and looked at the full footage which they had sat on for three weeks. They'd had it since the April 28th and it had not been disclosed or relied upon.

The full footage showed that the player was number 12 because you could see him with his back turned and then you can follow him around. They then called him back and said, 'Look, you told us that it wasn't you and it clearly is you.' 48-week ban.

Brolly said that if the extended footage had been disclosed earlier in the process, Fitzpatrick's case would have played out differently.

There was a grave suspicion on my part and nothing that I saw dissuaded me from that because you can see from people's body language that they had watched the extended footage before the meeting about the striking infraction. We put this in the appeal.

Think of the implications of that: He didn't get a fair hearing because that should have been disclosed at the first instance. Then the process would gone an entirely different way. He would have defended it on the basis that it was a push, not a strike.

The worst that would have happened was that he would have got a one-match ban. He didn't get a fair hearing. That was the evil that led to all the other evils.

There were four or five abuses of law, abuses of process, which I won't go into. In truth the whole thing was embarrassing. It would never have happened if it was someone from Dublin or Kerry. They just thought they would make an example of the Antrim kid. It was shameful really.

You can listen to Joe Brolly on last night's Off The Ball below.

PJ Browne
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