Sunday 8 December 2019

Sinead Kissane: Rush to punish Carnacon is a sign of misguided county board power


Cora Staunton has been a key player in Carnacon success story. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Cora Staunton has been a key player in Carnacon success story. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Let's start with what happened last month. On July 10, the group of players who left the Mayo ladies senior football squad over the previous week released a statement through the Women's Gaelic Players Association.

"We have stepped away from the Mayo panel for player welfare issues that are personal and sensitive to the players involved," the statement explained.

Two days later, the executive board of Mayo Ladies Gaelic Football issued their view.

"A comprehensive programme is in place to ensure that all Mayo players can train and perform in a safe and supportive environment," the statement included.

"In light of media speculation about unspecified 'personal and sensitive' issues, the board feels it important to state that the senior management team has adhered to all protocols and guidelines set out at the beginning of their tenure. The board has made players and management aware that they have our full support going forward".

The following day, Cora Staunton - one of the players who left the panel - was asked to comment on the situation at a media engagement.

"I suppose there are 14 of us involved at the moment; 12 members of the panel and two selectors. As a group, I have to respect their wishes that we stay quiet," Staunton was quoted as saying. "We didn't make this decision lightly."

The next day, July 14, after a much-changed Mayo team beat Cavan 3-23 to 4-13, Mayo manager Peter Leahy released a 530-word statement which included that "it is incorrect to state that they (the 12 players) have all left for the same apparent reasons".

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Leahy also outlined the timeline of events which started the previous Thursday, July 5, when he received "a call from a particular club secretary.

"I was informed by the said person that all eight members of that club were withdrawing from the county panel on the grounds of player welfare".

That club was Carnacon.

Four days later, July 18, mediation took place in Castlebar with an independent mediator, Mark Small.

It started at 4pm with four groups - members of the county board, management team, players who left the panel and players who were still with the panel in four separate rooms. Small went between the four different rooms to listen to each group.

The mediation wrapped up around 1am with several follow-up calls the following day.

"Peter and the management team and all the players were at it (mediation)," Mayo selector Mick Reynolds was quoted as saying the following week.

"They had to sign a confidentiality agreement based on it. But, as far as I'm told, the results of the mediation were inconclusive and we're moving ahead with the panel of 31 players we have."

This "inconclusive" line is different to what club delegates were told at the monthly county board meeting of the Mayo LGFA last Tuesday night.

It was after 9.30pm in a meeting room of the TF Royal Hotel when the agenda reached the 'any other business' stage and one club delegate asked "what happened?" in relation to the 12 players who left the inter-county panel. There were around 35-40 delegates in the room.

When the issue was discussed (barring what was covered by the confidentiality agreement), delegates were told that mediation had decided that no further investigation was warranted.

The discussion then took a turn into what sanction was going to be given to Carnacon.

This club became the focus because they had informed Leahy that their eight players had specifically left the panel because of player welfare (even though the WGPA statement covered all 12 players) with this news coming 10 days before Mayo's championship game with Cavan.

The delegates went on to discuss whether or not to penalise Carnacon under Rule 193 of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association Official Guide which states: "County Boards shall have the power to suspend for a period of 6 months any player who refuses to travel or play for the County." (How this rule is in a rule-book for amateur players is beyond belief.)

In the end, they decided on Rule 288 which is: "Any member of the Association found guilty of conduct calculated to bring the Association into disrepute shall be liable to expulsion or suspension by the Committee, Board or Council concerned."

Delegates voted 29-4 (with two abstentions and two spoiled votes) that Carnacon had breached the rules and was followed by a 26-2 vote (with a number of spoiled votes) in favour of banning Carnacon from the 2018 county senior league and championship. A few other items of 'any other business' were discussed before the meeting ended around 11pm.

The following day, Carnacon released a statement: "Understandably, the entire panel, management, club officers, our families and supporters are devastated by the sequence of events which have transpired.

"The club is in the process of preparing an appeal of this decision to lodge with the Connacht LGFA."

The statement ended with thanks for the public's support in this "unprecedented situation".

What seems to have got lost in that county board meeting is that mediation is not arbitration. In arbitration, the arbitrator hears evidence and makes a decision.

But even a quick google search tells you that "mediators do not issue orders, find fault, or make determinations. Instead mediators help parties to reach a settlement".

So how was there a leap made from a mediation process, which does not decide matters of innocence or guilt, to deciding that a club was guilty of conduct calculated to bring the association into disrepute?

The delegates knew there were confidentiality agreements in place which, in itself, tells you enough about the degree of sensitivity involved. And when the group of players who decide to leave involves the status of players like Mayo captain Sarah Tierney, vice-captain Fiona McHale and 11-time All-Star Staunton, it's clear that this was not done lightly.

Last Tuesday was the first county board meeting of the Mayo LGFA since the 12 players left. It would appear there was a mood for action to be taken. But why? Without the full facts? When there are confidentiality clauses in place?

It is my understanding that, while these discussions of how to punish Carnacon were being had no-one - not one delegate from a neutral club - said STOP.

Why didn't anyone urge caution, to return to their clubs and wait until the facts came out because that's what generally tends to happen in a democratic environment?

Instead of compassion and patience for an issue like this (for everyone involved), why was there a rush to punish?

How exactly are Carnacon "guilty of calculated conduct of bringing the association into disrepute"?

For giving support and protection to their players who decided to remove themselves from a panel?

For understanding that these are amateur players who have EVERY right to leave a situation and voice any concerns to their club?

Before helping Mayo qualify for the All-Ireland final last September and before Carnacon won their sixth All-Ireland senior club title last December, Staunton spoke about what her club meant to her in a video for the WGPA.

"We're very unique in our club," Staunton smiled. "We probably wouldn't be the most-liked club around the country or certainly within Mayo but I suppose that's like any club that's successful". Haunting words.

The fact that 12 women felt the need to walk away from the inter-county panel last month has gotten lost. This week this story became about those two old reliables: power and control.

The majority might have scored an overwhelming victory on Tuesday night at that county board meeting.

But everyone is losing in this sorrful mess.

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