Wednesday 20 November 2019

Laois case highlights impact on both sides

Inter-county player transfers are creating major tensions for everyone involved, writes Damian Lawlor

T WO weeks ago, Colm Parkinson appeared on a TV sports chat show and professed his love and passion for home club Portlaoise.

His proclamation would have been wholly admirable had it not come just two years after he left the Laois club to join Dublin's Parnells. Parkinson is back home again, conceding that while he gave "100 per cent" for his adopted Dublin club, it never felt like "his team".

Until this year he was one of seven Laois footballers engaged in Dublin club football. Other high-profile players like Darren Rooney, Colm Begley, MJ Tierney, Rory Stapleton and Brendan Quigley all left the midlands for the city's bright lights. The issue has become a hugely contentious one in Laois.

"When I was Laois manager over the past couple of seasons I didn't like that trend, principally because it made training schedules more difficult for the county team and you never knew what players were available," says Seán Dempsey. "The lads who joined those clubs in Dublin owed them a commitment and had different schedules but we had to train too, so it was a logistical nightmare. There was another factor -- their absence robbed our club championship of a lot of quality and basically downgraded it.

"But what can you do? My own son Jack recently went to Australia and if I could have found anything to keep him at home, I would have. I tried helping to get Colm Begley a job in Laois when he came back from Australia but there was nothing worthwhile and when he got the offer from Parnells, I couldn't blame him for taking it.

"Brendan Quigley is a carpenter and is more likely to find work in Dublin than Laois, hence his move to Fingallians. Darren (Rooney) has been working in Dublin for years while some of the others were probably offered work and had to leave. It's not good to see it happening but that's the background."

Two weeks ago, the county's dual star John O'Loughlin tried to move from Mountmellick to St Brigid's but was blocked because he is a student. Rule 6.9 of the GAA's Official Guide states that "residence in a county for the purpose of attending a second-level school or a higher education college shall not qualify as a permanent residence".

The Leinster Council is now intent on stamping out transfers involving higher education students. This is the GAA's first strike back and it's not before time -- anyone at last weekend's provincial convention will have felt the resentment at rural players being enticed away.

Following the convention, Dublin CEO John Costello circulated a memo to other Leinster county secretaries emphasising that there should be no tolerance of transfers involving students from other counties moving to clubs in the capital.

Last Wednesday, that message was relayed from county board chiefs to clubs who were reminded of the consequences of being associated with such transfers. The punishments are stiff -- a 48-week suspension for the player involved, the awarding of a game to the opposing team and a 48-week ban for the chairperson and secretary of the club the player has switched to.

This will stall the momentum of students leaving but in the current times the GAA will find it hard to stop other players leaving their homes for work purposes. MJ Tierney was unemployed for 18 months before Parnells found him work. Who would tell him not to move?

Last week, several administrators admitted there was little they could do but some felt that, like Parkinson, most of the players will be back home within a couple of seasons anyway. They also argued that this was not a new phenomenon; in the 1980s, Civil Service won Dublin senior football championships. Transfers to Dublin clubs have always been a way of life.

But no one could explain why so many players from one county in particular were upping sticks and leaving, with a fair scatter of them ending up at Parnells. This has caused serious rancour.

"It only takes one player to break the chain and others will follow," Dempsey explains. "As I said, Darren has been working in Dublin for years and when the likes of Colm Parkinson and Colm Begley also went to Parnells it was most likely that MJ Tierney was going to join them too, if he moved up. The only way they could have been kept at home was if the county board got them a job. Now, if a club in Dublin can do it I think county boards should be able to help out, but it just didn't happen.

"Still, is all this doing Parnells any good either? They had a terrible season last year. And what if they have a young Dublin minor coming through the ranks? What hope has he with four or five inter-county players from elsewhere, affecting his chances of a breakthrough."

Outside talent doesn't guarantee success. Kilmacud Crokes, a traditional second home for outsiders, seem to be benefiting from a close-knit, local feel to their senior football team. Out of the 15 that lost the All-Ireland semi-final to Crossmaglen, just three didn't play at underage level for the club.

The flipside of that, however, is that Crokes didn't release Longford's best player Brian Kavanagh for the opening rounds of the league while their club campaign progressed. That caused a furore in Longford -- and rightly so. It's a perfect example of the complexities that Dempsey refers to, seeing influential players align themselves to clubs in different counties

Back in Laois, a motion calling for transfers to Dublin to be banned is likely to appear at the next county convention. "People are up in arms and calling for a ban on transfers, but that wouldn't hold up from a legal point of view. Then you have those who don't care once their club is not involved. That's the truth of it," Dempsey says. "I'm a St Joseph's man and from that perspective it wouldn't bother me one jot that Brendan Quigley has left for Fingallians. But from a Laois point of view I'd be disappointed."

In Dublin, meanwhile, most clubs cannot compete with the big hitters and are concerned that incoming talent is hoovered up by the usual suspects. Perhaps the Dublin County Board should establish a bye-law restricting clubs to bringing in just one or two outside players?

Dublin manager Pat Gilroy recently put forward the notion of a draft system whereby smaller clubs would have first pick of incoming talent. That would also help level the landscape. "Whether it's some form of a draft system or a cap on the number of fellas who play on a senior team that didn't play juvenile in Dublin, it probably would be better that if fellas are coming here, maybe they shouldn't have a direct choice on where they go," Gilroy says.

"Smaller clubs could get first choice on them. That would make it fairer. It's not necessarily healthy if it's just big clubs getting top players all the time. I think a kind of a draft system would be much better."

It's clear that they need to do something. It seems unfair that Eamon Fennell had to wait three and a half years before finally engineering a switch from O'Tooles to St Vincent's and yet, in the time it took him to get his move, seven Laois players had upped sticks and joined football clubs in the capital. There's something wrong with that picture.

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