Saturday 25 March 2017

Martin Breheny: Either pick Seanie Johnston or let him go

Seanie Johnston first played senior
championship football for Cavan in
2003 but is considered surplus to
requirements this season
Seanie Johnston first played senior championship football for Cavan in 2003 but is considered surplus to requirements this season
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

So which prevails? An individual's ambition to do the best for his career or the establishment's reliance on its interpretation of the rulebook? In the matter of Seanie Johnston v Cavan County Board over his application to transfer to Kildare, the case continues.

The Board has refused the transfer request, querying Johnston's assertion that he's now resident in Straffan, so the saga has moved on to Croke Park for adjudication.

The majority of GAA power-brokers don't want Johnston to win. They claim that, if successful, it will create a dangerous precedent, leading to an increase in cross-county movement. They support their objections by turning it into a Cavan joke: "Heard about the Cavan man who works in Cavan but who claims to live 80 miles away in Straffan?"

Actually, we have. His name is Seanie Johnston, once of Cavan Gaels, who wants to play with St Kevin's, Staplestown and Kildare. He's 27, first played senior championship football for Cavan in 2003 and was team captain last year.

The Cavan team management omitted him from the squad for this year, beginning an almost inevitable sequence of events. Like any talented, ambitious player, Johnston wants to perform at the highest level, but his own county are ignoring him, which appears quite remarkable since Cavan aren't exactly over-loaded with attacking menace.

Still, that's the situation in which Johnston finds himself, so it's scarcely surprising that he is enthused by the possibility of joining a county which is higher up the pecking order than Cavan.

His attempt to join Kildare would lack a certain moral validity if Cavan wanted him, but since they have cut him adrift, it seems perfectly logical that he would seek to play elsewhere. Cavan Gaels agreed to his transfer requests but Cavan County Board are querying the move, citing doubts about Johnston's residency. The obvious inference is that he's still living mainly in Cavan and using Straffan as an address of convenience to facilitate the transfer.

The case is now before Croke Park where the Central Competitions Control Committee have sought additional information on all aspects.

Ultimately, it will come down to a decision regarding Johnston's main place of residency. He insists that it's Straffan and has invited all-comers to visit him for tea.

No doubt those opposing his transfer will counter by claiming that it stretches credibility to believe that a Cavan man, who teaches in Cavan, would subject himself to a 160-mile daily round trip.

However, opinions can't decide this issue. It has to be about facts, specifically if Johnston can prove his main place of residency is in Kildare. Presumably, that would involve the provision of concrete evidence that he overnights (or is in the early stages of doing so) in Kildare for more than half the year. The target number is 183 nights.

That's a lot easier than it might appear, especially for a second level schoolteacher.

Weekends alone (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) make up 156 nights per year. Add in 16 weeks holidays (another 64 days, excluding weekends), mid-term breaks and Bank Holidays and it comes to around 230 days.

So even if Johnston -- and I'm not suggesting that is the case -- spent the school week in Cavan and the rest of his time in Straffan, he could comfortably claim that Kildare is his main place of residency. That makes him eligible to play for Kildare, who are clearly interested in acquiring him.

The Johnston saga is still some way from completion, since it's likely to go through a few layers of Croke Park hearings and could, ultimately, end up before the Disputes Resolution Authority. In the end, though, I'll be surprised if he doesn't win his battle.

Proving he spends more time in Kildare than Cavan shouldn't be all that difficult and since his home county don't want him, surely he deserves a chance to try his luck elsewhere? One can understand why Cavan want Croke Park to decide on this very sensitive issue, but they must also be deeply uncomfortable that it involves one of the county's star attackers.

All the more so as it comes at a time when Cavan are second bottom in Division 3 after scoring just 0-7 (0-4 from open play) against Longford last weekend.

Break a welcome relief to league's strugglers

The three-week break in the Allianz football League has, effectively, turned it into a twin-track competition, as it will be almost like starting all over again when the action resumes in early March.

Counties who have done well in the early rounds would have loved to keep the momentum going, while those who lost both their games will be delighted with the chance to assess and readjust. They include Donegal (Division 1), Kildare, Derry, Westmeath (Div 2), and Cavan, Offaly, Tipperary (Div 3).

Ominously, four of the six counties who were in the bottom two in Divisions 1, 2 and 3 after two rounds last year were relegated.

Irish Independent

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