Whatever way this year’s championship plays out, the 2012 GAA season will surely be recalled in future years because of the protracted wrangle relating to Seanie Johnston’s move from Cavan to Kildare. In his latest spin in the guest chair, John Cuffe provides his thoughts on the affair.
The sun is at its yearly highest, not a cloud in the blue sky. I should rejoice but, alas, an invisible cloud has crossed my soul. A bridge has been crossed, a Rubicon challenged and defeated.
The GAA for all its imperfections and unspoken nuances was the perfect repository for the native Irishman. The unsuccessful politician, the rich farmer, the poor six-acre bogman, the fisherman, the Guard, the labourer, the bank manager, hey – even the doctor and dentist all found equality of sorts within its convoluted framework.
The successful teams harnessed the-cross section of the above. The unsuccessful found a place for the shopkeeper’s son, the newly arrived Guard or bank official who would never be allowed to break sweat in his native club’s jersey – because, bluntly, they were useless – found a home in a small town away from the knowing.
The clubs built around families, the club inspired and fuelled by hatred – imagined or real – against the boys from over the bridge. The insult first tendered back in 1910 but still the rallying call in the dressing room a hundred years later. All this made the GAA the great beautiful ugly hulk that we are addicted to.
Many fine players had their careers cut off at the knees by emigration, lack of work at home, a vindictive manager or selector. Many were used and abused as the new kid in town was tried out ahead of him. My own uncle when he finished labouring on the roads and turf cutting manned the Gweedore full-back, centre-back and midfield spot over eight county finals and six county wins. He never once was asked to make the trip to Letterkenny for the big one. His status as a Spailpín assured that. We ourselves were never less than proud of him and achievements.
At nineteen John Nallen, the great John Nallen, lined out at midfield for Galway in the 1951 Connacht final against his own county Mayo. John was a bank clerk and travel was slow and costly back then so Tuam Stars and Galway benefitted. Later he was a Mayo legend and before he signed off his travels took him to the 1959 All-Ireland final with Galway. He also played midfield with Meath and as well as that played for Cavan. In doing so John put down roots in each of those counties and is fondly recalled in each of them to this day.
Martin Carney came to us, in essence he came home. The son of a Lahardane man he was welcomed as a teacher and footballer. Dan O’Neill and Seamie O’Donnell went the other way to Louth and legend status. All of those men lived, worked and played for their new counties. There was no ambiguity.
Kildare – a county ranked number four by those who profess to know their onions – have now got Seanie Johnston on their books. Johnston is a footballer that has class and is badly needed by his old county. Yet Kildare for all its media-driven hype have in four years beaten one team of note, a distracted and disorganised Meath.
They have strayed around Division Two needing a last minute penalty to get past Galway and out. Dermot Earley, a veteran from 1998, is still a vital cog in their engine and Johnny Doyle – a former corner-forward – was their go-to midfielder last year. Wexford, with none of the hype, have done as well if not better than them. But the cognoscenti that know football see them as big, like real BIG.
If I were a forward playing club football in Kildare I would throw up today. Not deemed good enough hence the clamour for Seanie. This seems to be particular to Kildare: Karl O’Dwyer, Murphy, Lacey, Sheridan and John Divilly have all donned the lily jersey despite coming from Kerry, Cork, Tipp, Meath and Galway respectively. If another county pulled a stunt like that they would be lacerated. The irony is that the two they should have kept did the deed with Cork – Tompkins and Fahy.
What now? Well in essence we have come to a Bosman moment. A wall has been breached, appeals finally succeeded and the famous rock that has lumbered this nation has risen from the water. It’s called precedent. The Seanie Johnston case will now be the template for the next lad who wishes to continue his career elsewhere.
Of course EU law and the various rights brigade will correctly point out that what the GAA has done over the years is probably restrictive and illegal. The parish rule will be revisited soon and it too will be dumped. Seanie wanted to play county football. Cavan didn’t want him and Kildare did. The square has been circled and a new chapter has been opened. I wish him well, a lovely young man by all accounts and I had the pleasure of seeing him play many times … top class.
Still part of me sees another part of what we are and who we were stripped away. Perhaps it’s the way things are meant to be. Life does not stand still and the young players on Twitter are full of good wishes for Seanie. Maybe it’s me who needs to grow up and smell the coffee but old ways are ingrained and are hard to change.