Friday 23 June 2017

Moyna wants tighter rein on Sigerson eligibility

Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

NOT to be outdone as the comings and goings of Premier League players grab headlines, the GAA's very own transfer window is currently wide open.

This coming college year marks the 100th anniversary of the Sigerson Cup competition and, as the registration deadline for the new semester looms, speculation surrounding inter-county players pledging allegiance to various third-level institutions is escalating.

Roscommon captain Peter Domican, Galway forward Sean Armstrong and Mayo's Conor Mortimer are among those already linked with post-graduate courses at new colleges and with the cut-off day approaching more players look set to join them.

DCU are the current Sigerson Cup champions. The team boasts players like Donie Shine, David Kelly and Michael Murphy among their ranks, making them an attractive prospect for any player who aspires to win a Sigerson medal.

Director of Dublin City University Sports Academy Niall Moyna revealed that a number of inter-county stars have contacted him to inquire about the possibility of studying at the northside campus. But Moyna insists that education takes precedence over football at DCU.

"In all my correspondence with those students, I didn't mention football just the courses that they wanted to do," says Moyna. "That's my priority first and foremost. My view would be that Cork IT is becoming the academy for Cork County Board and they have stated that.

"All the good young players in Cork are going to Cork IT. I don't have a problem with that if they want to put up a structure that affords young kids the opportunity to play our national sport and go to a third-level institution, that's fine."

In the last decade, six different colleges have won the cup, showing just how competitive it is. Five out of the six defenders on the Dublin team who beat Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final played against each other in the first round of the Sigerson Cup for UCD and DCU.

The intensity of the competition has increased dramatically, with colleges seemingly prepared to go to some lengths to win it, so much so that Moyna now believes that graduate students should not be allowed to play.

"Sigerson Cup should be for undergraduates only. There should only be four years of eligibility because that was what the competition was meant to be about.

"We have lost the run of ourselves and I would like to see it going back to what it was originally about. If you're doing medicine or a law programme, well that's too bad, you can't play for your last three years. Right now, we have 19-year-olds playing against 26-year-olds and that's not fair."

Eligibility is a thorny issue which has become a blight on the competition. For the last five years there have been investigations of sorts into a number of college teams on this front.

In 2005, the competition was rocked to the core by the suspension of four high-profile players from DCU on the grounds of ineligibility. Inter-county stars Ross Munnelly, Shane Ryan, Dessie Dolan and Diarmuid Kinsella all received 12-week bans. However, their suspensions were quashed a month later due to a technicality.

Three years later, there was another row over eligibility when the Garda College was thrown out of the competition for fielding an illegal player, Graham Dillon. They were re-instated on appeal and then went on to finish runners-up to UUJ.

Moyna believes that a retired High Court judge should monitor the competition but not every college shares his stringent sentiments.

"My bottom line is if a student is a genuine student who is completing a course at the college then there shouldn't be a problem," says Michael O'Connor, Gaelic Games Officer at NUI Galway

However, along with the controversy surrounding eligibility have come stories of players being targeted by cash-rich colleges to strengthen their football and hurling teams.

"There is nothing wrong with a college asking a student to come in to play," claims O'Connor. "If colleges are in a position to offer scholarships or bursaries to students to come in to play, that's fine. If that person is happy with that, at the end of the day he will leave college with an education and a qualification that grants him an opportunity to get a job, then everyone is happy.

"But the downside for him is that if he goes in and the course he is doing doesn't suit him or he can't handle the work, then he could be in trouble. Football is no good to him when he is in his mid-20s and is unemployed."

Sigerson football has become a shop window for inter-county stars. It provides players with an opportunity to prove they are ready for senior championship football. And with the 100th anniversary final due to be played in Croke Park, the prize is bigger than ever.

Sunday Independent

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