Keep your nose out
Fermanagh's rejection of GAA/GPA input undermines Disputes Resolution process
It was never sold as the panacea to all ills, but it had the potential to be a game-breaker to the problems that stalked the players and county boards of Cork, Limerick and Clare in previous years.
When the GAA and Gaelic Players Association (GPA) signed up to an €8.5m five-year deal in January and had it officially sanctioned at the next Central Council meeting in February, there was an expectancy that player disputes with management and county boards could be resolved with far greater expediency than before.
With the GPA on board, the feeling was that matters could be teased out in a much speedier and more orderly fashion under the terms of the Disputes Resolution protocol.
Over the last few days, the representatives of the GAA and the GPA who have waded into the current Fermanagh dispute in an honest attempt to resolve it under the terms of the Disputes Resolutions protocols observed in the document will have felt that they were close to a resolution.
But in the end they have come away empty handed, with the possibility of even deeper fissures developing in the county as time moves on.
Effectively they were told by the Fermanagh County Board to stay out of it.
Not in so many words, of course, but by the board issuing a statement at 9.30 yesterday morning from the board's management committee outlining that they were backing John O'Neill and his management team, and affirming that all their managers were appointed for a three-year term.
Dessie Farrell, chief executive and representative of the GPA, and Fergal McGill, the GAA's operations manager, had proposed the establishment of a review of all inter-county appointments at the end of this season with some involvement of past players in that review.
But this was apparently unacceptable to the Fermanagh board, who were satisfied that their protocols for managerial appointments were fine. Hence, the re-assurance about the three-year terms.
But the board themselves, while sticking to a three-year term, reserve the right to reviews at the end of each season anyway.
In the end it came down to numbers -- or at least the optics provided by numbers. In their statement, the Fermanagh board have made it clear that, in their view, there are only four disaffected players. They were happy to put that figure into the public domain.
Did that number represent a player revolt? With no one else coming out publicly in support of the quartet, it was hardly tantamount to rewriting the script on appointments or how they go about them.
Those four -- James and Peter Sherry, Niall Bogue and Tommy McElroy -- were signatories to a letter sent to the county board outlining the grievances that they had. In the letter they apparently made it known that under a different management they would be happy to play with Fermanagh once again.
Reports last week suggested there were up to 10 who had walked out disaffected with the management.
But outside the four signatories to the letter, three of the remaining six -- Fergal Murphy, Daryl Keenan and Shane Lyons -- are on the record as stating that problems with the management set-up were not at the core of their reasons for departure.
The other three who have left have not made their reasons known.
The Fermanagh management committee were also in a position of strength because of the support that Barry Owens has given the team management.
Owens is Fermanagh's best player, a double All Star who is also the captain. He has come back from illness and serious injury and, after a long absence from the game, he still commands real respect.
Having him so firmly in his corner has helped O'Neill greatly and it is understood that he attended Wednesday night's management committee meeting and left no one present under any illusions that the current 28-man squad was fully behind the team management.
In their deliberations, the GPA, it is understood, did not make direct contact with members of the squad and that too became an issue among them. Maybe there was no reason to make contact because those players weren't disaffected. But it was still an issue nonetheless.
Many of that 28 are newcomers, it must be said, and would feel obvious loyalty to O'Neill, who has kick-started their inter-county career.
Fermanagh had been losing altitude long before O'Neill took charge last September. They have dropped two divisions in successive years and the wider issue for the county is how all 15 of their Ulster final starting team in 2008 are no longer available; how in the last three years such a small county has experienced such a huge turnover in players.
If there is a problem with O'Neill's management, then not enough of those who hold that view have spelled out why. That made it difficult for the negotiating team.
The question of counties buying into this Disputes Resolution process will also be raised after this. There is the provision for a mediator but there won't be much appetite for that.
There's a sense that the more things change, the more they will stay the same. The new deal worth €8.5m may bear much fruit in many other areas, but when players and management fall out, someone has to go.
That's been the history of it in the past and it may also be the future.