Monday 19 March 2018

Fennell has the right to make his move

Eamon Fennell's proposed club transfer to St Vincent's from O’Toole's has sparked much debate
Eamon Fennell's proposed club transfer to St Vincent's from O’Toole's has sparked much debate

keith barr

FOR anyone ever involved in Gaelic games, we all feel we have a stake in the association. It's one of the GAA's strengths, but at times I often wonder is it also its greatest weakness. The Eamon Fennell case makes me lean towards the latter.

Let me explain. Fennell's case has divided opinion in Dublin between those who feel he should be allowed to transfer from O'Toole's to any club he wishes -- even St Vincent's, whose traditional ability to raise the hackles of all opponents remains undiminished -- and those who say he should not be allowed move even though the relationship with O'Toole's is irreparably damaged at this point.

I'll lay my cards on the table here. As someone who did move clubs at the end of my playing career, I believe that Fennell should be allowed to transfer. Granted, he didn't do himself any PR favours by switching his intended destination, but he has served his 'quarantine' and he should now be allowed to play club football.

All the football people I have spoken to over the past few months -- club and county players who know the score -- agree. There is a consensus: Fennell should be allowed to go.

I understand the reasoning and aspiration behind the loyalty to one club; I understand that it should not be carte blanche to move between clubs, it should require a difficult process, and rightly so.

And let's be clear, it is difficult to transfer in Dublin, there is a tough approval process to go through. And most club players remain with their clubs.

If you can stay with your club for a lifetime, that's a wonderful thing, no question. But if a player wants to go, for whatever reason, and if all arguments to keep him fail, it is ridiculous that anyone possesses the right to stop that individual. Playing is more important than anything else.


Wanting to play for a leading Dublin football club shows that Eamonn is concerned about developing his career as a player; that should be welcomed in a county that hasn't won an All-Ireland for 15 years. And Dublin winning an All-Ireland would be the biggest boost for every underage mentor and set-up in the county. Ambition should not be blocked.

Begrudgery is a scourge in this country.

In my opinion, this is about officials, in whatever guise, dictating to players. Same old story.

The irony of Dublin's Cork chairman Gerry Harrington casting the decisive vote to once again block Fennell's move I find particularly hard to swallow, regardless of the county's bye-law. Essentially, this decision ended up in Harrington's hands. I believe the moderate-thinking delegates were prepared to let Eamonn move while die-hards opposed it. So Harrington, in my opinion, has nailed his colours to the mast.

I've no doubt that given Fennell's increasingly pivotal position in the Dublin team there are a lot of football people in the capital who are furious with Harrington. I know if I was still a player with the squad, I would not want to see him anywhere near the team set-up after that decision.

A lot of GAA 'core values', as the troopers in the association like to talk about, are values drawn from rural Ireland. In a lot of country communities, losing players could signal the collapse of a club. Emigration in the '80s is pointed to as an example. Parish rivalry is a key to the GAA set-up; competition is based on geography.

In Dublin it's not quite the same. There are local rivalries, and they can be intense, but frequently few of the players will actually live in the area. It's more about the team itself and its ambition.

But there's a lot of double speak about core values. It is, for example, a core value of the GAA to promote hurling equally with football, but there are plenty of northern GAA people who like to lecture their southern counterparts about 'core values' while hurling dies under their very feet.

In Dublin there is still a vitally important community aspect to the club, but the role of O'Toole's in their community is not going to suffer because of Fennell's move; that is a red herring.

And it's not as if O'Toole's don't have previous here. Back in 1977, six hurlers from the Eoghan Ruadh club in Dublin transferred to O'Toole's, among them county players Brian and Peadar Carton who went on to win championships with O'Toole's.

Eoghan Ruadh went from senior to intermediate before eventually amalgamating with St Oliver Plunketts. In 1996, Kilkenny players Eamonn Morrissey and Shiner Brennan joined the north Dublin club while in 2006 Erin's Isle county hurler Liam Ryan switched from my old club to O'Toole's.

I know there were differing circumstances for these moves but they were transfers nonetheless and I think there are probably plenty of people in O'Toole's who know the history and are prepared to let Fennell leave. O'Toole's are a powerhouse of Dublin hurling; they are not a small club struggling to attract interest in the community.

It's a great club, no doubt, but this is damaging its reputation. Players move between clubs in Dublin far more than anywhere else.

The demographics of the city have changed dramatically over the last 15 years. You are unlikely as an adult to end up living in the same area of your youth.

Take the case of two great servants of Dublin football, Jason Sherlock and Mick Galvin. Mick transferred to Na Fianna because of his ambition as a player and is now back managing his old club Plunketts.


When Jason left Na Fianna recently to go to Plunketts, there were a lot of people sore about it, but they allowed him to go and got on with running their club. And there was no big fuss as a result. Na Fianna got over it and Jason got on with playing.

People are talking about the 'parish rule' being applied in Dublin. But what, for instance, should you do if you live the same distance from Craobh Chiarain, Whitehall Colmcilles and St Vincent's? Do we invite Parnell Park to send someone out with a measuring tape? Is club membership going to be determined by the church closest to you, because it's also likely that the young player in question has never seen the inside of that building either?

Dublin clubs, particularly small ones, often draw on the rural experience of parish loyalty to suit their cause, but the reality in the city is far different. When Erin's Isle got to the All-Ireland club football final in 1998 we roared about the 'parish' and the 'village'. The reality of course was we were representing an urban sprawl, with all the difficulties and complexities that go with that.

O'Toole's are in the same boat. They are situated in a large Dublin suburb and are a key part of that community. However, the least of their problems is whether Fennell stays with the club or not. That 'problem' has been created by personalities and I've no doubt that there are those within the club who feel there is far too much energy and time being devoted to this case.

It is a measure of Fennell's ambition that he wants to play his football in Division 1 of the Dublin senior league to improve his game but, like a lot of players, there is every chance that as his powers diminish on the field, he could return to O'Toole's to serve his time as a mentor and coach.

However, the longer O'Toole's play politics with his future, the less likely that is going to happen.

Those in O'Toole's who feel Eamonn should be allowed to go should make their views known before it's too late.

Irish Independent

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