Sunday 25 February 2018

Comment: Cavan accepting Seanie Johnston back after ultimate sin felt good

Seanie Johnston lined out against his native Cavan a few years ago
Seanie Johnston lined out against his native Cavan a few years ago

Declan Bogue

AMERICANS love a good comeback story.

Generalising a bit? Maybe. But we think back to the example of Michael Vick.

A first-round draft pick for Atlanta Falcons from Virginia Tech in 2001, the Quarterback was found guilty in 2007 of promoting, funding and facilitating a dog fighting ring on his property. He had also engaged in hanging and drowning dogs that did not perform to expected standards.

Sickening stuff.

But after serving jail time, he was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles. His first appearance arrived against New York Jets.

He recalled some time after; "What epitomized everything was the first time I ever stepped on the field as an Eagle, in preseason.

"The standing ovation that I got, the welcome, the reception, it kind of made me feel so comfortable at that point in my life because of what I was going through, and the anxiety of playing in your first game in two years and not knowing what to expect from the crowd."

If American fans are willing to forgive social taboos, it is interesting to note the attitude of fans over sporting taboos.

In 2013, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson stated that Wayne Rooney put in a transfer request to leave the club.

As a professional athlete, some resented his desire to monetise his talents, comically clinging to the notion of loyalty.

On the day United were presented with their 2013-2014 league medals during an Old Trafford party, Ferguson could hardly bring himself to look at Rooney while he heartily embraced all his players.

Happily, the issue was settled the following February when Rooney agreed another four years of a contract at a cool £300,000 per week.

Was there any rancour from the fans when Ferguson made his claim that Rooney wanted away?

"If he starts the season, scores a few goals and enjoys his football, the fans will forgive him, if there's anything to forgive him for," answered club legend Bryan Robson, at the time.

In the very intensely-local GAA world, one of the biggest 'scandals' in the games of recent times was the transfer of Seanie Johnston from Cavan to Kildare, who were managed at the time by Kieran McGeeney.

Proof was sought that he lived in an address in Kildare, even though he was a teacher in Cavan town at the time. Letters to his address went unreturned.

A number of obstacles were thrown in Seanie's way, but he was determined to line out in Lilywhite. The saga reached a low point when he played his first-ever hurling match for Coill Dubh in a Kildare Championship match against Eire Óg to satisfy the last remaining loophole.

To get a sense of how crazy the situation got, the 'Seanie Johnston rule' although not called that in the Official Guide, is an actual 'thing.'

Once qualified, the stars aligned that Kildare would meet Cavan in a 2012 All-Ireland football qualifier.

Sending him on as a substitute that evening was McGeeney forcing him to burn the boats. When you think of it, Johnston must have felt sick that evening at heading into Breffni Park and taking a left to the away dressing rooms rather than a right to the home ones.

Nonetheless, he stood up and pointed a free that evening against his own. The boos were audible from the Cavan support and booing a player is something very rare indeed in the GAA.

But now Seanie is back in blue and playing as well as ever. To observers, he appears to be playing with and carrying himself with a great maturity and humility. At 31 now, you would hope so.

In the past, different managers would confine about how difficult he could be. Now, he subsumes himself to the system, just as every footballer has to.

He might not have had to don sackcloth and ashes, but there were certainly times when he had to bite his lip in the five years since he last played Championship for Cavan. Asked about Johnston's switch in 2012, Terry Hyland said, "Good luck to Seanie, he's a good footballer, but he's not an All-Star."

On 66 minutes, Gerard Smith of Lavey replaced Seanie Johnston, who had seven points to his name.

Johnston hadn't been involved in animal cruelty or playing hardball to get a new deal. But in the world of #OneLifeOneClub GAA, he perhaps committed the ultimate sin. 

It wasn't quite a standing ovation, but the applause from the Cavan fans was genuine and wholehearted.

And, you know what? It felt good.

Press Association

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