Andrew Shore may throw himself at the mercy of Congress
On Tuesday last the GAA's Central Appeals Committee (CAC) heard the case of Andrew Shore, the Wexford hurler for whom 2014 will forever be a sea of conflicting emotions. A key figure in some of last year's most memorable matches, Shore's fortunes sank when he was discovered to have played, without full transfer approval, for a small club in Coventry last October.
From the thrill of being in Wexford Park on the summer evening they defeated Clare, the reigning All-Ireland champions, this was quite a fall. The match which sealed his fate had none of the euphoric scenes which marked Wexford's extra-time replay defeat of Clare, and their later exciting win over Waterford in Nowlan Park. The match he's lived to regret, his last, was a quarter-final club tie in the All-Britain Junior Hurling Shield.
The competition is designed to help promote the game among weaker clubs - like those in action that Sunday afternoon of October 19 last. Eleven-a-side is permitted. Shore lined out for Roger Casements from Coventry and with his help they defeated the Nottingham hopefuls, St Barnabas. Even in an inter-county environment, a 6' 5" player like Shore stands out. In a junior hurling game in Birmingham, size and technique would have left nobody in any doubt that he was operating in a different sphere to the rest of the field.
That decision to play led to an objection from St Barnabas, an investigation by the provincial council of Britain and Shore's suspension for 48 weeks. He hasn't been able to train or play with club or county, with Wexford beginning their National League campaign this weekend, having already seen him miss the Walsh Cup and pre-season training and challenges. After making considerable strides last year, Shore has lost serious ground. The 24-year-old is not commenting publicly but is said to be badly shaken by the experience.
Last Tuesday's appeal was the latest in a series of disciplinary stages which have left a lengthy trail since the initial suspension was imposed last November by the Hearings Committee in Britain. Following that decision Shore appealed and had a chance to make a personal case in Newcastle in January. The decision was upheld.
The latest appeal to the CAC on Tuesday last, which Shore prepared with some assistance from the Gaelic Players' Association, managed to quash his suspension but he is not out of the woods yet.
The CAC agreed that the CCC in Britain should not have referred the proposed penalty to the Hearings Committee in Britain but to its counterpart here, the Central Hearings' Committee (CHC), as he was still a Parnells player at the time of the alleged transgression.
Shore has now requested a hearing before that body next week. If it applies the same rule and penalty there will still be one avenue of appeal, or plea, left open to him.
Over Congress weekend in Cavan, Shore can, if still serving suspension, make a case for leniency to the Reinstatement Committee which has reduced severe suspensions for similar transgressions in the past. The player would require references and account would be taken of the time already served. Irrespective of what opinions people have on the matter, most would agree that 48 weeks is an extremely harsh punishment.
Comparisons have been made to the infamous Tony Keady Affair in 1989, the year before Shore was born. But there are key differences. Shore had made clear his desire to transfer from his home club, Parnells in Dublin, to Roger Casements in Coventry. Strange as that may appear, an inter-county player moving from a senior club to a junior outfit in the UK, there were no objections raised and the transfer was only three days from reaching the point where he was free to hurl with the new club. He had already been registered but under UK transfer procedures he required another three days to be ratified in order to play. The match on October 19 fell a few days too early and when St Barnabas objected to the result this was quickly shown up.
Keady, on the other hand, while he may have been to some extent innocently led, played in New York under an assumed name, Bernard Keady. There was no attempt to cover up Shore's identity. It was well known in advance of the game that Casements had been lining up a major transfer coup. As for the connection, it appears that this came through another player who submitted a transfer request along with Shore from Parnells to Roger Casements. Brendan Quinn is believed to be a friend of the Coventry club's hurling manager. Both players appear to have had residences in the UK listed on their transfer forms which were meant to be permanent. They looked set to settle there and work for a period of time.
Players seeking to play in the US can obtain special authorisations which allow them represent clubs there on weekend trips and they may pursue sanctions if they wish to play for longer spells. To play in the UK, a player attached to a club in Ireland must get an inter-county transfer, the same as if wishing to move from a club, say, in Dublin to Cork. If the penalties for abuse appear draconian, the principles are founded on core GAA values based around the protection of the club ethos.
Shore has had a slightly nomadic club life even though he's only 24. On October 26, 2011, he had a transfer approved from his home club in Wexford, Davidstown-Courtnacuddy, to Parnells on Dublin's northside. This was followed on October 16, 2014 by his transfer to Roger Casements in Warwickshire. Quinn also played in the Shield match on October 19 and incurred the same suspension.
At one stage last year Dublin County Board had a query from Parnells wondering if Shore could play a senior football championship relegation match, following his transfer, but they were informed he was not eligible. Under GAA rules a player who has transferred to another club in a different county may return and partake in a competition he has already played in earlier that year with his original club. In this instance, the relegation play-off was deemed a separate competition to the championship, disqualifying Shore.
The disciplinary intrigue that has resulted from Shore's mishap, and which remains ongoing, has been described by one experienced GAA administrator as a "total mess". Shore is understood to have claimed to be in possession of an email confirming that he had been granted permission to play. This claim, if true, would appear to have held little water over the course of his travels through the GAA disciplinary process in Britain. The player has been advised to keep his head low while awaiting the outcome of the next phase.
Apart from the players involved, the outcome also impacted severely on Roger Casements who had their chairman and secretary suspended for 48 weeks. Some media coverage cast unfavourable light on the club's handling of the players' affairs, suggesting that they were badly informed. These claims were strongly disputed on Friday by a member of the club, Paddy Hoey, who is also secretary of Warwickshire County Board. Hoey was one of the signatories on the transfer applications for both suspended players.
He says the club has been unfairly demonised. "Our club chairman and secretary got suspended and neither of them were party to it, they were not even at the match. They each got 48 weeks. They were aware of the player coming over but not aware that he couldn't play."
It could be argued that senior club officers have a duty to ensure that players are eligible to play but wherever the blame lies in a sense makes little difference now.
The player did not have a licence to play and the club who objected was within its rights to do so. Hoey is manager of the Warwickshire hurling team and says that there is no bad blood as a result of the affair between the two clubs involved. He has players from both on his county panel. Roger Casements had their four-point win declared null and void following the revelations and they were removed from the competition.
The rule book is clear and unsympathetic in these kinds of transgressions. Shore, according to sources, had decided to move to and work in Coventry and his transfer stated that he had a permanent residence there. However, he is now back living in Dublin and there are suggestions that he may be seeking a transfer back home to Wexford.
In the meantime, he needs to get back playing - either through the CHC or the Reinstatements Committee which is made up of the members of the CAC. It is possible that Shore confused being registered with being eligible to play. If he were careless then the consequences have been extremely punitive and given him a hard lesson on transfer rules and regulations, based on the GAA's uncompromising insistence on loyalty to one's home or first club.
Shore is said to be exhausted by the experience and desperate to find a way out. A source said he was so concerned about stepping out of line that he had to check that it was ok to attend a recent Walsh Cup game Wexford were playing in.
Unlike Tony Keady, Shore is still in the prime of his hurling life and with some luck he could be back hurling for Wexford in the next few months. Even then he has some catching up to do. One GAA official has allegedly told him that if he had his way he would have got 96 weeks. But many will feel that he has probably served enough time by now and that the publicity should be a warning to others to ensure their papers are fully in order. If doubts exist one should seek independent advice.
Usually the Reinstatements Committee welcomes a letter of exoneration from the body which meted out the suspension in the first place. If there was a concern that those across the water were hardline and might not play ball, that obstacle no longer exists. The matter is now back on home soil. He is not home and dry yet. There are still some hoops that have to be jumped through. But the GAA, one suspects, will be glad to see the back of it too.
Sunday Indo Sport