Banned pair McGrath and Nagle given inter-county green light
TIPPERARY and Waterford can breathe major sighs of relief today after confirmation that lengthy college suspensions will not be applied to two of their hurling stars at county level -- and they have a Cork player to thank for it!
Tipperary midfield star Shane McGrath and Waterford ace Jamie Nagle are set to get 12-week suspensions from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) who have ruled the players were ineligible when they played for Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, in this year's Ryan Cup.
But a precedent set by Cork goalkeeper and UCC student Anthony Nash last week means that the three-month suspensions that they are set to receive will only apply to them at college level, leaving them free to continue playing with their counties.
Earlier this season the Higher Education GAA committee Comhairle Ard Oideachas (CAO) ruled that UCC student Nash was ineligible to play for his college and gave him a 12-week ban for doing so.
It was understood that this ban also applied to him at inter-county level, but when Nash took his case to the GAA's Central Hearings Committee (CHC) last week they overruled that and decided that his suspension should only apply at college level.
And that precedent means that the CAO will recommend that these latest suspensions should also only apply at college level.
Waterford played Nagle against Galway last weekend but Tipperary withdrew McGrath, who had been named in their starting line-up against Dublin.
Tipperary said that McGrath was withdrawn due to illness, but the large question marks surrounding his eligibility led to speculation that the Premier County were taking no chances of any further repercussions.
As of yet, Mary Immaculate have only been informed that four of their players -- including Darragh Egan and Seamus Hannon, former Tipperary and Waterford seniors respectively -- are ineligible to play.
No suspensions have yet been handed down so McGrath and Nagle were, technically, free to play last Sunday.
But enough doubts surrounded the eligibility of the two players to leave both Tipperary and Waterford sweating heavily on the outcome, and they will be relieved to hear that their players' college status will not affect them elsewhere.
CAO Chairman Michael Mallie confirmed yesterday that the suspensions will "apply at college level only, which doesn't rule players out of club or inter-county."
Mary Immaculate won the Ryan Cup last season and had reached the last eight of the same competition this year but pulled out of last week's quarter-finals in protest when their high-profile quartet were ruled ineligible.
The playing eligibility of third-level students is an extremely contentious subject in GAA circles.
There is no question that these Mary Immaculate players are full-time, bone fide post-graduate students in their college where they are pursuing a primary school teaching qualification, but the problem occurs because their course is only 18 months long.
Under CAO rules, eligibility is judged on the number of educational credits accumulated per year and, technically, students who are on 18-month courses are only eligible to play for one full season. McGrath and Nagle played for Mary Immaculate last year.
An identical controversy arose two years ago regarding several high-profile footballers involved with Garda College, including Kerry's Aidan O'Mahony.
Mary Immaculate College would not comment yesterday but are expected to do so when their players are officially suspended, which will happen at the next CAO meeting which could take place during this weekend's Fitzgibbon Cup.
Mallie added: "This is not a witch hunt. We simply can't dragnet through 5,000 players, which is the number of players playing in the third-level sector at this moment."
Asked why the eligibility of players cannot be firmly established at the start of the season to avoid such disastrous mid-season disruptions and controversies, CAO secretary Mike McMahon said they have another added complication - their final player registration deadline is not until the end of January to allow for courses that start in the new year.
"We carry out random checks on player eligibility and had a meeting a few weeks ago which sought clarification on the status of a number of players," he said.
"The fact is that all our colleges are free to seek clarification on any player's eligibility before October 31 every season, with no risk or penalty to them," he stressed.
He said the CAO have sought clarification on the eligibility of as many as 40 players this season, including many who are not inter-county players.
Among these were Donegal's Barry Dunnion who was ruled ineligible for his college (Sligo IT).
Bryan Cullen's eligibility for last weekend's Sigerson Cup winners DCU was also queried but he was ruled eligible on the basis that he has returned to the college to do a PhD, which complies with the HEA's rule on academic progression.