Residency probe puts Johnston's Lilies move in doubt
The GAA's Central Competitions Controls Committee will be asked to investigate the authenticity of Seanie Johnston's claim that he is resident in Kildare and thereby eligible to play for them this season.
It follows a decision by the Cavan County Board executive committee at their first monthly meeting of the year to raise concerns about his residency claims.
Two weeks ago, in signalling his desire to play for Kildare after being jettisoned by Val Andrews in Cavan last October, Johnston indicated that he was resident in Straffan, despite retaining employment as a teacher in Cavan's Breffni College.
Cavan have now decided to raise a concern about his eligibility to transfer from Cavan Gaels to St Kevin's in Kildare on the grounds that they understand he still lives in Cavan town.
A statement issued by the board said the transfer was discussed, but it was felt that the committee would be unable to assist this particular process as they believe there is a doubt about compliance with Rule 6.9 of the Official Guide.
This governs the criteria for an inter-county transfer and stresses that an application shall not be granted unless the player is in permanent residence in the new county.
Cavan PRO Declan Woods said that the executive had effectively cast doubt on the residency issue and it would now be a matter for the CCCC to deal with it.
"We're not the body who decides whether Seanie Johnston can transfer or not. That's for the CCCC to determine and eradicate that doubt we have cast about his private principal residence," said Woods.
"We respect his right to seek a transfer and we'd be very disappointed to see him go if the transfer request is approved.
"But what we are saying is that we have concerns about where the player is living. As far as we know, he is living in Cavan town and we have no knowledge to say that is not the case. We haven't asked for any and we wouldn't need to know, but we felt it wouldn't be right to approve something when we clearly have a concern about it," added Woods.
"This is nothing personal against Seanie Johnston, who has been a wonderful player for Cavan.
"But our belief is that he is still living in Cavan and until it can be proved otherwise, we wouldn't be satisfied with this transfer being approved."
Johnston's club Cavan Gaels meet tonight to discuss his proposed move formally, but regardless of their position, Cavan's concern will now put pressure on Kildare and Johnston to satisfy residency requirements.
Proof of residency could come in the form of utility bills, registration with the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB), a rental agreement with a landlord, electoral registration or sequence of correspondence over a period of time to a particular address.
Cavan were expected to communicate their view to the CCCC yesterday, who, in turn, will have to address the matter with the Kildare County Board. One option open to the CCCC could be to ask Kildare officials to verify, by signature, their satisfaction that Johnston is a permanent resident of Straffan. The commute from Straffan to Cavan town, his place of work, would be close to 90 minutes via the new M3 motorway.
Johnston is making his move to pitch in with Kildare after being left off Andrew's squad in October.
According to the player, Andrews broke the news to him in a phone conversation that lasted no more than 10 seconds. Apparent efforts to mediate between the manager and the player have not materialised.
If the CCCC turn down his request on the back of doubts about his permanent residency raised by Cavan, it is almost inevitable that this case will find its way to the Disputes Resolution Authority in the coming weeks.
Opinion on Johnston's move seems divided in both counties and it does raise an issue about a player's freedom to play inter-county football if omitted by his own county.
But the ethos of the GAA's rules on eligibility is that a player is considered to owe allegiance to his home club and county, even if that club or county doesn't always show allegiance to the player.
Coincidentally, Johnston will be involved with the management of the Cavan vocational schools team that will meet Donegal in the Ulster final, which was due to be played tonight, but has been postponed.