Sport

Sunday 21 October 2018

Devil in detail of GAA's odd transfer system

MARTIN BREHENY

WILLIAM KIRBY will, no doubt, be profoundly surprised by the revelation that his citizenship of Kerry has been temporarily suspended. As of now, he is regarded by the GAA as having no legitimate links with the county where he was born and raised and with whom he has won one senior and two All-Ireland U-21 medals.

He was chosen to play for Kerry in last Sunday week's Allianz Football League game against Tyrone but was told on the previous Friday that playing in San Francisco during the Summer had rendered him ineligible.

On his return home some weeks ago, he played with Austin Stacks and may yet face sanctions for the heinous crime of playing for his local club.

The full weight of the GAA's legislative framework is, no doubt, on their side. Deep in the small-printed bowels of their transfer regulations, a clause is waiting to clobber Kirby and his likes, just as it landed a ferocious wallop on Niall Buckley last June.

Buckley had his airline ticket booked to come home from America to rejoin the Kildare panel when a five line missive from Croke Park informed him that if he played with the Lilywhites against Offaly in the Leinster championship, he would be ineligible to resume with his adopted club, St Brendan's, Chicago, again this year.

Buckley cancelled his ticket and Kildare were robbed of a defining influence, who might have been the difference between victory and a three points defeat by Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Five months later, Kirby becomes the latest player to discover that the devil is very much in the detail of the complicated transfer system between here and the US.

Rules are rules, say the GAA. They were made to bring some degree of order to the transfer scene between Irish and American clubs. Fine. But why extend club regulations to the county scene?

Nobody is disputing that Kirby and Buckley are from Kerry and Kildare respectively. So why not let them play with their counties and address the club issue as a separate matter?

What makes it all so ludicrously unfair is that while Buckley and Kirby had their inter-county ambitions damaged by involvement with American clubs, the GAA says it's quite OK for college players back home to play with two different clubs in different counties in the same year.

THE high profile case of hurler, Paddy O'Brien, who won county senior championship medals in Tipperary (Toomevara) and Dublin (UCD) is well known, but really only comes into a true perspective when viewed against the experiences of Kirby and Buckley.

Different cases, say the GAA. The rules allow for college players to participate in two different championships in Ireland whereas Kirby and Buckley had eligibility problems, arising from bye-laws which were introduced mainly to suit clubs in America.

Whatever the official explanation, there is a logic deficit which, the GAA cannot bridge by semantic cartwheels. O'Brien wasn't allowed to assist UCD in the AIB club hurling championships as he was also playing with home club, Toomevara, in the Munster campaign.

However, he did have an indirect input to the Leinster championship by helping UCD to win the Dublin title. County championships are, in effect, qualification series for the provincial campaigns and it could be argued that UCD would not have won the Dublin title without O'Brien.

They most certainly would not have won it without the help of several other country players, who were also eligible to play for their home clubs.

UCD play Kilkenny champions, Graigue-Ballycallan, in the Leinster final next Sunday and while the college players and administration shouldn't take it personally, the truth is that most GAA fans want to see them beaten, just as they rejoiced when UCC were eliminated from the club football race by Crossmaglen Rangers last season.

Good luck to college teams, whose players avail of the dual mandate allowed by the rules. They are merely playing the system and nobody can criticise them for that.

However, we can pour scorn on a system which bestows added privileges on college teams at the expense of other clubs, who have to deal purely from the hand their local area deals.

College teams have plenty of competitions to keep them busy, without also being allowed to compete in county and All-Ireland club championships. Besides, how would the third level teams react if the likes of Athenry, Sixmilebridge, Crossmaglen Rangers and Na Fianna applied to play in the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup competitions, on the basis that they were keen students of life and, by extension, entitled to compete in colleges' competition?

FAR-FETCHED? Perhaps, but no more illogical than a situation where Kirby is in trouble for playing with his local club after playing in the US earlier this year, whereas students can play a major role in two different county championships in the same season back home.

PS: Peter Canavan's one-match suspension for next year's Ireland v Australia International Rules simply cannot go unchallenged. Canavan was sent off, together with Australia's Jason Akermanis, in the second test at Croke Park, following a transworld disciplinary hearing, was banned for the first test next October. Akermanis was suspended for both games.

Irish boss, Brian McEniff, has promised that the ban won't come against Canavan. Nonetheless, he will miss 50 percent of the series.

Canavan has been the victim of sustained provocation in recent Ireland-Australia games and while he did throw a punch at Akermanis, it was impossible to blame him. Akermanis had put down a definite marker in the first test as to the aggressive manner in which he planned to cope with Canavan so why didn't the Irish lodge a formal complaint before the second game?

Indeed, why didn't they cite Akermanis, as happens in rugby, and seek to have a disciplinary hearing which might have led to his suspension for the second test?

Instead, Akermanis was allowed to continue with his intimidatory tactics, which left Canavan with little option but to take the law into his own hands. The punishment for defending himself is a one match ban next year. Has he now got the right of appeal? If so, to whom?

This is a highly unsatisfactory scenario and while it might seem rather trivial now that we have folded away the International series until next year, there is a principle at stake. If the GAA and their Australian counterparts haven't put an appeals procedure in place, then Canavan is entitled to have his ban lifted.

Meantime, the Irish management of Brian McEniff, Paddy Clarke and John O'Keeffe would be well advised to study the video of the incident which led to Canavan's dismissal. It will prove beyond doubt that whereas he had the courage to fight for the cause, some of his colleagues obviously suffered from a temporary loss of vision. By the time they recovered it, Canavan was on his way to the sideline.

He deserved more support from his colleagues. If they can't be relied on to defend a colleague on home ground, you can hardly expect them to really stand up to the Aussies down under.

Check the video, Brian, and delete names accordingly from your 2001 plans but make sure Canavan stays.

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