IF THE MERE mention of Seanie Johnston’s name at this stage causes you to scream in frustration, then the last few days cannot have been pleasant.
The interminable saga continues to drag on. It’s taken months of jumping over legislative hurdles in order for Johnston to make the transition from Cavan footballer to Kildare footballer, but the stalled nature of the process did see the story take a backseat for a time.
Suddenly over the weekend there was another explosion of interest. It was quite an achievement that 14 senior inter-county championship matches were overshadowed by one Kildare SHC game. Yet the bizarre and farcical episode that saw Johnston play 35 seconds for Coill Dubh in a sport that is alien to him in order to rubber-stamp his move to Kildare, did just that.
And then the sporting gods wickedly deemed that Cavan would be drawn first and Kildare second when it came to the sixth pairing of last Monday morning’s All-Ireland round two qualifier draw. Mutterings of conspiracy, which are frankly ridiculous, in the world of social media added another layer to the story. So if you’re weary of this whole tale, then the outlook is unpromising. There won’t be too many other GAA items that will rank higher on the agenda over the next 11 days before the ball is thrown-in at 3pm in Kingspan Breffni Park on July 15th.
It’s not been a good news story though. The whole episode has been embarrassing and uncomfortable for several strands of the association. Kieran McGeeney has voiced his irritation that it has been kept in the limelight but that loses sight of just how emotive an issue it is when players transfer in the GAA.
Sure there have been an increase in club transfers in recent years but that is reflective of the enormous changes that this country has undergone with economic circumstances driving players from rural communities to urban centres, both at home and abroad. There are not many dissenting voices in those instances.
The Johnston move is different and it is viewed by many as an attack on one of the core values of the association. If the whole farrago has proved anything it is that there is simply no appetite within the GAA for a transfer system to display. The lure of playing for your native club and native county will still prove strong. This is not going to open up the floodgates for a deluge of inter-county transfers.
There is an argument that Johnston should have been let move last winter when this first surfaced, thus avoiding the mess that has subsequently ensued. But the transfer regulations had to be adhered to and the GAA had to avoid setting a precedent. Kildare should have been aware of that as they tried to push this move through. The longer it progressed, the more unseemly the situation became and the fact that the county’s senior hurling championship, a competition that barely raises a flicker of national interest normally, was dragged into notoriety exacerbated matters.
Paul Fitzpatrick, sports editor of the Anglo Celt newspaper in Cavan, and more informed that most about the situation, made some interesting and salient points when speaking on Newstalk’s Off The Ball programme last night. Chief amongst them was the notion being peddled that Cavan as a county turned their back on Johnston the footballer. As Fitzpatrick pointed out that was a decision taken by Val Andrews last winter and clearly Cavan supporters are disgruntled with being lumped into the anti-Johnston camp.
The dilemma now for Kildare is whether to play him or not in Sunday week’s qualifier. If they do not, then it raises the question as to what was the point in going to such remarkable lengths to ensure the move took place? But if they do, are they placing enormous pressure on a player who will be making his debut for a county and returning after a lengthy hiatus from competitive action to an atmosphere that could be hostile and unforgiving?
There must be some sympathy for Johnston himself. His desire to play football remains strong and both McGeeney and Kildare players have spoken glowingly about his application in training. It cannot have been easy to put in such work in the darkness unaware if there was light at the end of the tunnel.
And the sad fact is that there are plenty observers, both those within and outside the GAA, who will now know Johnston simply for this episode rather than the extremely talented attacker capable of producing marvellous free-scoring displays like he did against Cork in the league in 2008 and against Wicklow in the championship in 2010.
Maybe the whole thing will be a damp squib. Maybe, given the polarized rankings that these counties enjoy in the national football hierarchy, this will be a routine victory for Kildare. And maybe Johnston will be taken out of the firing line to be a bystander on the afternoon. But if there’s one thing this story has been, it is protracted and thoughts that the whole matter would conclude months ago have proven to be wide of the mark. There maybe another twist in the tale yet.
Just A Thought…
It’s a tight, atmospheric ground when it’s packed to the rafters and not the sort of place that teams like to travel to. Yet it is Cusack Park where Dublin must attempt to resurrect their 2012 hurling season next Saturday night in the wake of their disheartening Leinster championship exit recently. For Anthony Daly it is a return to native soil yet the Ennis venue has not always been kind to homecoming heroes. Five years ago Ger Loughnane brought his Galway team there for a qualifier tie against Clare they were expected to win but they left after being defeated by 2-10 to 0-14.
Daly has had bad days in management before, like the 19-point loss when in charge of Clare against Waterford in the 2004 Munster championship opener, and shown a capacity for reinvention, like later that same summer when his team took Kilkenny to a replay in the All-Ireland quarter-final. But this will be a test, clashing with his old comrade Davy Fitzgerald who is at the helm of a Clare team already packed with talented youngsters and poised to unleash another in gifted teenager Tony Kelly. It will be a pivotal evening for the Clarecastle man.