Colm Keys: Hard to believe transfer saga had no impact
It was late in Kieran McGeeney's press conference when the inevitable question about the events in Clane the day before emerged. Seanie Johnston had made an appearance for the Coill Dubh hurlers -- for less than 60 seconds -- in a Kildare SHC match against Eire Og Corrachoill, donning a red helmet and the No 27 shirt to qualify him once and for all to play football for Kildare.
Asked whether the focus of attention on Johnston and the most drawn-out transfer case in the history of the GAA had affected his players, McGeeney was adamant that it hadn't.
"None of us were there (in Clane)," he said. "I can't help the way the GAA make decisions. They want to elongate, change the rules, ask people for objections, all those things are out of my hands. How many players would that affect?"
Johnston wasn't part of the matchday squad for yesterday's game, though he took his place among the Kildare substitutes in the Hogan Stand. McGeeney, while satisfied he was cleared to play, was adamant that his exclusion was part of a protocol he observed rather than any lingering doubt about his legality.
"I have my own thing and you have to be available on a Thursday night to be picked for me. I can't change the rules for individual players, I have always stuck to that. I'm satisfied he is free to play," he said.
But it's impossible to reconcile that the whole furore over his move from Cavan has not had an impact in some way.
Within the dressing-room it may be easy to control the debate that it's the right move for a team to embrace a top-class forward who is willing to move residence to play for them.
But outside the confines of that dressing-room, it is much harder.
Human nature being what it is, it's inevitable that players have to listen to heated arguments about the pros and cons of such a move and some negative opinion has to permeate through.
The sight of Johnston having to don a helmet and carry a hurl for as little time as he did may be farcical in some eyes.
But if it was the only avenue open to him, and his publicly stated aim has always been to play football for Kildare, then he had to seize the opportunity and he was right to turn out for Coill Dubh when the opportunity presented itself.
He didn't cause the delays in a transfer process that lasted almost two months from the time he submitted his third application at the end of March to when the Central Appeals Committee overturned the Central Competition Controls Committee decision to block his move from Cavan Gaels to St Kevin's.
By then, Kildare had already played the first round of their senior club championship and committed to playing no more rounds until business with the county team was finished.
Did they really have to suspend games for the rest of the summer knowing that this scenario could arise? As much as Kildare will blame the hurling appearance on Croke Park for their lack of expediency in dealing with the matter third time around, the Kildare County Board must also stand indicted for their club football fixture inflexibility.
After Saturday's match, Johnston articulated to journalists present how happy he was that the whole ordeal was now behind him: "For people who think it casts things in a bad light, maybe they should look at all the transfers that have gone through in the last seven or eight months, while I've been made give things like my wage slips, PPS number and a whole lot of other government documents that didn't seem to be quite enough for the powers that be."
"I don't think GAA players should have to go through the hoops. We are doing this because we want to play football or hurling. You want to play at the top level if you're able to and the big rigmarole around it is not something that I enjoy."
When the dust clears, they'll be able to move on and recover through the route they know best, Sean Johnston included. But somehow, you can't avoid the suspicion their collective eyes may have been off the ball this week.