Monday 16 December 2019

Stuck in the middle

SEANIE Johnston's efforts to declare for Kildare have been going on for so long now that it's easy to dismiss it as a case of the GAA patiently resisting an opportunist attempt to stretch the transfer rules further than they were ever intended.

Initially, it looked that way. Unwanted by Cavan, Johnston sought a transfer to Kildare late last year. It provided much mirth for the sniggering classes as a Cavan man, teaching in his home town, sought to convince Croke Park that he was living in Straffan, Co Kildare.

The GAA public were largely sceptical, believing the arrangement to be no more than a convenience deal which would allow Johnston to declare for Kildare. And while there was sympathy for him after being left off the Cavan panel, there was no warmth on the issue towards Kildare, a county with higher than average in-out transfer traffic over the years.

However, personal viewpoints can have no role in adjudicating on the legitimacy of a transfer request where the deciding factor has to be the merits of the case under the rules.


So far, Johnston has been twice rejected by two different Central Competition Control Committees (there was a change among CCCC personnel following Liam O'Neill's arrival as president).

Johnston's request has been turned down under the Residency and Ethos regulations, both of which are flawed. The GAA acknowledges that there is no clear definition as to what constitutes permanent residency, yet CCCC found Johnston didn't pass their test.

But if the GAA can't define 'permanent residency' how can they rule against a player who brings a reasonable amount of evidence to the table?

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The rule states that attending college in a particular county does not qualify as a permanent address, but, other than that, there is no example of what does, or doesn't, meet the requirements for a transfer.

More disturbing still, in the original CCCC adjudication on Johnston, was the conclusion that even if he passed the residency test, the reason for his transfer was questionable under the ethos heading.

CCCC felt that his sole aim was to play "inter-county football with a county to which he could claim no obvious allegiance."

"That, in the opinion of the committee was, in itself, contrary to the Association's ethos," noted CCCC.

Now the GAA may not be able to define 'permanent residency', but they seem to have no difficulty deciding what precisely constitutes ethos as applied to transfers.

The Johnston scenario would be different if he had walked out on Cavan with the sound of a wailing management begging him to say. Instead, they obviously thought they could cope without their best-known forward, a judgment that was exposed as a fallacy in a Division 3 campaign where they were lucky to escape relegation, prior to losing to Donegal in the Ulster SFC last Sunday.

With his own county ignoring him, Johnston's desire to play elsewhere was understandable. He -- and his advisers -- believe he has provided enough documentation to pass the residency test in Straffan, but CCCC continue to reject his transfer request, even if there are no clear rules on what classifies as a permanent abode.

I suspect if this ever gets to the DRA, Johnston will win easily.

Mind you, he and Kildare did not help their cause by their antics on the day of the Division 2 final in Croke Park when he sat with the subs and was on the pitch afterwards for the presentation.

Okay, so that had nothing to do with the validity of his transfer request, but surely it was an example of a time not to insult the alligator until you've crossed the river. CCCC would have been less than impressed by Kildare's public promotion of Johnston as a Lilywhite just as a delicate transfer application was ongoing. It was a day to keep a low profile.

Still, that's peripheral to the substantial issue here. If a player who is unwanted by his own county seeks to extend his career by moving elsewhere, is he not entitled to do so, provided he can provide a reasonable amount of evidence of his new living arrangements?

What constitutes 'reasonable'? It's vague, of course, but then so is 'permanent residency' as applied by the GAA, yet their definition wins out.

There's something fundamentally unfair about that. As for ethos, it doesn't seem to concern Croke Park very much when it comes to Dublin clubs snapping up country players.

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