Wednesday 20 September 2017

Johnston has won the battle but transfer war may not be over

The longest-running transfer episode in recent GAA history is coming to an end. Or is it?

The Seanie Johnston saga has had more twists and turns than your average John le Carre spy novel, and the final chapter appears to have been written on Wednesday night.

That is when an appeal by Johnston against the decision of the Central Competition Controls Committee (CCCC) to turn down his transfer request from Cavan Gaels to St Kevin's in Kildare was successful in front of the GAA's Central Appeals Committee (CAC).

That decision was conveyed verbally to Johnston after the appeal meeting had ended. A statement issued yesterday relayed the decision and the reasoning behind it "on the basis that there had been no objection by either Cavan Gaels or Cavan County Committee within the 10-day time limit."

But here's the rub -- the matter will now go back to CCCC, who must digest these latest findings and then weigh them up against their own convictions on his permanent residency.

It is only then they will decide on whether to give it an official seal of approval. If the green light were not to come, it would open up an unprecedented conflict between two central bodies.

At various stages, both club and county had raised concerns about Johnston's move. They sought clarification from CCCC on receipt of the transfer request, but crucially those concerns were not tantamount to an objection, and that was the technicality by which the CAC decided to uphold his appeal.

According to the rule 6.10b of the official guide, under the heading of 'transfers generally', an inter-county transfer application "SHALL be granted if there is no objection from the county the player is leaving within 10 days of the forwarding of the application to the county by the Central Council or Provincial Council."

In isolation, that rule seems straightforward enough. Effectively, the decision of CAC, based on 6.10b, appears then to oblige CCCC to clear Johnston to play for St Kevin's when they meet next.

But can CCCC do that when it has already come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that Johnston is not in permanent residence in Kildare?

Under the terms of the official guide's rule 6.9, "an inter-county transfer shall not be granted unless the player is in permanent residence in the new county." That still stands.

Does the absence of an objection to an inter-county transfer only become relevant in clearing a transfer on the premise that permanent residency has already been established? The CAC decision would appear to suggest otherwise, with the absence of objections from a club and a county within a particular time period supplanting the requirement for permanent residency.

CAC would have operated off the pre-Congress Official Guide to reach their decision -- the latest transfer request was made at the end of March.

At the most recent Congress, however, an addition was made to rule 6.10 where everything governed by that rule was subject to permanent residency being established.

Johnston was put through hoops to provide documentation as he attempted to establish he was living in Straffan permanently.

Scrutiny

From the production of wage slips, a P60 and bank details he has been subjected to an unprecedented level of scrutiny in a case like this and would surely have proved his permanent residency in Straffan in front of a Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) panel.

But CAC's deliberation was not based on the residency issue.

Many welcomed the apparent conclusion of a divisive case yesterday, which has dragged on now for almost six months since an attempt to switch county allegiance without switching clubs failed.

St Kevin's moved to register the player yesterday morning in Croke Park to clear him in time for Sunday's league match with Raheens. But it is unclear if the formal process can be completed quickly enough for that fixture.

If CCCC decides now to sign off on Johnston, the question is how it can be engineered for him to become eligible for Kildare. Another rule passed at Congress obliges a player to have played with a club in the current or previous year in the county that he intends playing for.

In essence, Johnston must play club championship in Kildare before he can play inter-county championship with the Lilywhites. Kildare played the first round of club championship fixtures last weekend and clubs are of the understanding that there will be no further rounds of the championship until Kildare's championship season is at an end.

On the basis of that understanding, several club players have already made decisions to travel to the US and other countries in the knowledge that they won't be required if results go to plan.

If that holds, then Johnston won't play for Kildare in 2012.

There are possible options, however. The draw for the next round of the club championship in Kildare is being made on Wednesday.

Could an arrangement be made whereby St Kevin's play a stand-alone second-round fixture with an agreement that Johnston only features for a brief period of time so as to legalise him?

Would the other clubs be so accommodating? Would the rest of the St Kevin's squad be satisfied with that given their perilous position in the losers' half of the championship?

The suggestion that Johnston could play for Coill Dubh, the hurling club that serves the Straffan area, has also been floated and if Kildare by-laws allow it that could be an unconventional route.

Cavan Gaels clearly have no hard feelings towards their former captain, saying: "Cavan Gaels would like to wish Sean Johnston the best of luck, he has been a great servant to our great club for many years."

The fears that Johnston's probable success in moving counties could lead to an avalanche are grossly misplaced. The same fears are often expressed in relation to young players signing for AFL clubs. It's a trickle more than deluge; anything that follows this will be too.

This has always been an unusual case. Not many county managers decide in October that arguably their most talented player should be surplus to requirements and it should be remembered that that is what triggered this in the first place.

Irish Independent

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