Wednesday, June 12, 2019

By Kieran Murphy

JUNE is the month for the annual Féile competitions. The camogie and hurling Féile na nGael took place at clubs in Kerry and Cork at the weekend while Féile Peile na nÓg goes ahead in Connacht at the end of the month. The Handball Féile is being held this weekend. All is good so?

For the travelling club yes, but Carlow’s Éire Óg will not look fondly on this year’s football competition which saw them thrown out of the Carlow competition while two of their officers, John Brophy (secretary) and James O’Byrne (chairman) have been suspended for 12 weeks.

The Teach Asca side had been found guilty of fielding an illegal player against Palatine in the Carlow semi-final earlier in the year. They didn’t intentionally do anything wrong, but after going through the Carlow appeals process att CCC and Hearings level, the suspensions were imposed.

Even going down the Central Appeals Committee route, they were not successful in getting the suspensions lifted or getting back into the competition.

It all stemmed from a recent ruling imposed at national level where all underage players have to be registered with an adult club. One player lined out for Burren Rangers last year. The club don’t have an adult football team (they have an adult hurling team) so anyone who wanted to play football with the area team has to register with one of the adult clubs nearby. Most of the players registered with either Ballon, The Fighting Cocks or Kilbride. From that, a new area team called St Martin’s was founded.

Because the player had never been with any adult football club and because his parents had lived in Carlow town, Éire Óg understood he was eligible to play for them. They registered him as an Éire Óg player.

The club ensured he was listed on the GAA system as an Éire Óg player but subsequently, when the investigation took place, the YI’s were informed that just because he was registered with the club, it didn’t mean he could definitely play with the club. It transpires a transfer process should have taken place.

Leading up to the Carlow football Féile semi-final, the club looked for clarification on whether the youngster could play for them. Éire Óg were told by Carlow Coiste na nÓg’s Michael Meaney they could field the player and he lined out for them when they beat Palatine in the semi-final.

The defeated side did not object, but a letter was sent to the Carlow County Board looking for clarification on whether Éire Óg should have included the player in the team.

An investigation found that the young lad should not have played with Éire Óg and the local CCC handed out the suspensions.

Just like Turlough O’Brien’s proposed suspension by the CCC in Croke Park, the matter dragged on for several weeks and months. In the end nothing changed. Éire Óg were out.

The process is over now. Because Palatine didn’t object to the result they couldn’t be awarded the game. Instead Michael Davitts, who had come through to the final from the other side of the draw, will go to Féile without playing a final in Carlow.

Éire Óg are getting on with it now but there is collateral damage.

Rightly or wrongly, relations between Éire Óg and Palatine will be strained. Yet it is hard to see what Palatine did wrong. If they felt there was an issue they were well within their rights to look for clarification on such matters. Ironically, if they had objected they would have taken Éire Óg’s place in the final.

The suspensions kicked in on 11 April and for 12 weeks from that date, neither O’Byrne nor Brophy can take part in any GAA activity at either club or county level.

There were rumours that Brophy, a high-profile and successful business man in Carlow, was set to resign as coaching and games officer with the senior board. He was also Chairman of Club Carlow. In both cases, because he is suspended, he has had to step aside.

Some speculated he was withdrawing his services as some form of protest. Brophy is adamant this is not the case and reaffirmed he is suspended and therefore cannot carry out his roles. He did confirm he hasn’t made his mind up whether he will resume his responsibilities when the suspension ends.

When John Brophy signs on to do something there are no half measures. His suspension means Carlow GAA will lose out. Shooting oneself in the foot, comes to mind.

It is no harm mentioning that when the Carlow footballers beat Antrim to win league promotion last year he was the only county board officer to brave the snow and the dangerous roads by travelling to Belfast to see Carlow making history in Corrigan Park.

He has no issue with Michael Meaney who gave him advice in good faith (even it was wrong). Both of them remain on good terms.

It is the same for James O’Byrne. The Éire Óg chairman just wants the matter to be finished now.

As he is suspended he cannot speak on behalf of his club. Instead he looks at it from a personal point of view.

“Very disappointed for the chap involved. At the end of the day it is the kids who lose out. That is the be all and end all as far as I am concerned. From a human aspect, I am disappointed for the kids,” he said.

It’s understood the club were advised by county board secretary Michael Doran that they could be running into trouble by fielding the player. But they did not get that in writing.

At the end of the day it is accurate to say the player was registered with Éire Óg but he had not gone through a recognised transfer process.

O’Byrne did say that as Burren Rangers was an area team and not a club, he didn’t think it was necessary to process a transfer. The CCC and Hearings committees didn’t agree.

Sometimes good can come out of such situations. Michael Davitts must be delighted to be representing Carlow at Féile. Perhaps they would have won the Carlow final anyway.

Clubs will be more careful than ever to make sure players are registered and transferred according to procedures. On the other hand, it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last time situations like this arise. Hopefully lessons have been learned in a tale where there were no winners

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