Fair play doesn't extend to Exiles
Last week it emerged that the GAA's recently imposed 'Seánie Johnston Rule', which prohibits players from lining out for a county unless they've played in its club championship last year or this year, was about to rule out 12 members of the London team to face Leitrim in the Connacht Championship on June 3.
Quick thinking by the London County Board, which pulled the opening round of this year's club championship from July back to the weekend of May 27, has prevented the decimation of the team.
But it remains far from ideal that London's players have to play a round of championship games seven days before meeting Leitrim because they don't have any alternative as the rules stand. In a statement, the players said "it's an impossible position we've put the clubs in, allowing just two weeks for preparations which will in turn take away from the county team's preparations, an extremely tough but necessary decision for both parties."
It's hard to disagree with London captain Seán McVeigh's observation that, "It's an absolute disgrace that it has come to this. The problem is that the bigwigs in the GAA don't care about football outside of Croke Park. That's what it comes down to. We're far out of sight for them so they're not worried about us."
The sad truth is that while the GAA pays lip service to the overseas boards, as it does to the weaker hurling counties, the pious rhetoric doesn't correspond with reality in either case. There was no malicious intent towards London when the SJR was brought in, it was just that nobody thought of the effect it would have on their teams.
London deserve greater respect. Because, as anyone who's taken the interminable tube journey to Ruislip will testify, there's something special about watching a game there. In this sleepy suburb where London morphs into Middlesex is a little pocket of Ireland. You never fail to leave the grounds there without feeling admiration for the people who've kept the GAA alive in the city. A trip to Gaelic Park where New York will host Sligo tonight elicits similar feelings.
New York, who'll have four native-born players in their line-up, will be out of the championship if they lose. Should Sligo lose they'll get another chance in the qualifiers.
Yet in September the GAA's two best hurling teams will compete for a trophy named after the former vice-chairman of the London County Board and the two top football sides will play for a cup named after one of Seán McVeigh's predecessors as London captain. The London team's statement suggested that Liam MacCarthy and Sam Maguire "would be ashamed that the GAA has fallen to such depths."
It's still not too late for the GAA to grant London an immediate exemption to the rule. Such a move would prevent the disruption of their club championship and the unfair handicapping of their county team.
Don't the Exiles deserve that much at least? Show us what you're made of Liam O'Neill.
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