Thursday 17 October 2019

Martin Breheny: 'The four counties punished for breaking training camp rule are entitled to ask - 'why us?''


Wexford's Lee Chin
Wexford's Lee Chin
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

As Armagh, Laois, Waterford and Wexford formulate their responses to being found guilty of breaking the training camp rule before this year's championships, they will be united under one heading: 'why us?'

Were they the only ones to embark on 'away' weekends during the prohibited period? Of course not.

So why are they being sanctioned while others are not?

Two possibilities arise. It's either a case of not being able to prove the case against other counties or were the punished four the only ones to come clean? Either way, they will be aggrieved by facing a penalty when others are not.

While losing home advantage for one league game may not seem harsh, it could influence the campaign.

That certainly applies for Wexford who were due to welcome All-Ireland champions Limerick to Innovate Wexford Park for the opening round in late January.

Home advantage would have been important, but unless Wexford win their case through the appeals process, the game will be played at a neutral venue.

That creates the unusual position where supporters are also being punished as they will have to travel outside the county for a 'home' game.

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Wexford hurlers and Armagh footballers went overseas before the championship whereas Laois footballers and Waterford hurlers were cited for training weekends in Ireland.

Wexford insisted that their trip to Portugal was, in fact, a bonding exercise and did not involve training,

Joint-captain Lee Chin kept a straight face when explaining last May that it was simply a case of the players deciding they wanted some fun together in the run-up to the championship.

"We didn't train. We decided that we just wanted to relax in each other's company.

"We couldn't help but laugh at it (perception that they had gone away for concentrated training). As a group of friends I think we were entitled to do what we wanted to do," he said.

On the same day, Ciaran Kilkenny and Michael Darragh Macauley claimed that the trip to France by the Dublin football squad was something of a historical adventure.

Apparently, they had visited various World War I sites and memorials, a pursuit that somehow fitted into the schedule in their pursuit of the All-Ireland four-in-a-row.

"No, there wasn't any training at all. It was more going around and visiting these different places," said Kilkenny. Macauley suggested there was a respect issue involved.

"We were over paying respects to the Irish who fought in World War I. It is something I would never have had the opportunity to do, to have a first-hand account of the World War I experience and have your eyes opened to how many Irish were involved over there," he said.

The general reaction to the tales of the unexpected presented by Chin and the Dublin players was understandably sceptical.

Obviously that extended beyond the general public and into Croke Park as both counties were among an initial 17 who faced investigation. It's understood that seven had satisfactory explanations while 10 faced a further probe.

Six months later it has emerged that the sub-committee which looked into all the cases believed Wexford but not Dublin.

We aren't privy to the details but it will certainly raise eyebrows among the broader GAA community that Wexford face punishment while Dublin don't.

And what of several others counties, including Donegal and Mayo, who also faced investigation?

How did the management sub-committee settle on Armagh, Laois, Wexford and Waterford for sanction while clearing the rest?

Obviously, trust is a big factor in this type of investigation. The GAA couldn't have spies in every camp, so if a county insisted that their squad saw neither hurley nor football, how could it be proven otherwise?

In any event, the rule is so vague that even a hob lawyer would rip it apart. What's a 'training weekend?' Does it have to involve work on the pitch? Do DVD, tactical and psychological sessions classify as training?

In fairness to the rule drafters, they would never have thought that the wording needed to be as specific as a Government bill.

They might reasonably have expected that the spirit of the rule (designed to create more room for club fixtures) would be sufficient in this case.

Clearly it wasn't. Of course that still doesn't explain why only four counties were punished. One suspects this saga has some way to run yet.

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