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21 Jan 2022

Responsibility lies with each Offaly GAA club to protect their own borders

THE MAN BEHIND THE WIRE

Responsibility lies with each Offaly GAA club to protect their own borders

Clara man Pat Flanagan (left) after leading Roscommon's Padraig Pearses to the Connacht senior football title

THERE was an interesting motion passed at the Offaly GAA Convention last December, aimed at protecting the borders of small clubs.

The full motion from Cappincur GAA Club was: ATTACHMENT TO FIRST CLUB In accordance with Rule 6.4 (c) T.O 2021: A person seeking to become a member of the Association shall be restricted to joining a Club in the Catchment area of his permanent residence or where he has other relevant connection with a particular club as defined by 6.3 (b) (i) T.O 2021. If a player wishes to become a member of the Association, by joining a club, outside of the catchment area of his permanent residence, he or the club must submit to the County Secretary, evidence of his entitlement to do so.

This motion essentially means that if a player living in a club's area wishes to play with another club, they must now receive express permission to do so from Offaly GAA and a simple registration or declaration will no longer suffice.

The motion was passed unanimously, despite objections from Tullamore and last year's club chairman Tom Martin – he has since been replaced by Paul Dillane.

It was not a surprise that Tullamore should voice objections. While the motion was a general one and was well worded, it is no secret that Cappincur have an issue with Tullamore over the playing of players from their catchment area.

It is far from a specific Cappincur and Tullamore problem. There are a few examples around the place of young players playing with Tullamore, even though they don't live in the town and have never done so.

To be fair to Tullamore, they have also experienced this issue on the other side of the coin. There have also been cases of players living in Tullamore but playing with rural clubs in other areas – though these do seem to be a bit more rare and certainly don't generate the same talk as players playing illegally in Tullamore.

While the Cappincur motion brought the whole situation to public attention, it is far from a new one. It has been going on for as long as the GAA has been in existence and especially since the parish rule was introduced in Offaly in the early 1900s.

The parish rule has been one of the corner stones of Offaly GAA since then, one of the fundamental principles of the games in the county. It basically means that a player must play with a club in the parish that he was born in or resides in – if a player plays with a club and then moves to a different area, he can still stay with that club though he has the option of transferring to his new area if he so wishes.

Apart from that, the parish rule is crystal clear and there is no room for ambiguity with it. Every club has been guilty of breaching it at some stage and every club has gained and lost through those breaches – you can be fairly certain than no club has an unblemished record in this regard.

In the vast majority of cases, breaches relate to where a player is born and grows up in a certain area but plays with the club of his father.

This is the current issue that Cappincur have with Tullamore, though there has been occasional confrontations over an area very close to the town border – the Tullamore parish boundary ends at the Barony Bridge, just past Whitehall Estate. There is a sizeable number of houses between there and Cappincur Filling Station, where people must play with Cappincur. However, many of those people consider themselves as Tullamore – they went to school in the town and were never a part of the community in Cappincur.

In fairness, a lot of people from this short stretch of the road have played with Cappincur over the years and some were excellent performers for them, winning championship medals. Others played briefly with them but there have been plenty of cases of players from this area playing with Tullamore or becoming members of the bigger club.

Cappincur is a unique area – it doesn't have a village or National School. The vast majority of their children go to school in Tullamore while there has been a long going tradition of some going to Ballinagar. The GAA is the very essence of Cappincur. It has given them their own sense of identity, allowed them to stick their chests out and they have enjoyed considerable success. They have done well to survive at senior football level for a few years – they are likely to slip back down at some stage – and they actually shocked Tullamore in the 2020 Senior Football Championship.

It would be wrong, however, to paint this as a specific Cappincur and Tullamore problem. It is far deeper than that and there are plenty of examples of players playing illegally all over the county – both in the past and currently. Many of these are known to the Offaly GAA County Board, and they are known to supporters, even if they are only spoken of in quiet voices.

At the other end of the county, there was a long and much publicised border row between Birr and Crinkle GAA Clubs – There were several failed mediation attempts, costly visits to the Disputes Resolution Authority before an agreement was eventually secured between the warring clubs some years ago. In this case, provision was made for the sons of former Birr players playing with their father's club but it also offered protection to Crinkle – and newcomers into their area couldn't simply decide to play with Birr. Carrig and Riverstown, which is also in Birr parish, have also had to fight their corner on occasions.

It looks like things are now peaceful in Birr parish and there hasn't been much talk at County Board level in a while – for years, it dominated life at meetings.

Birr parish, however, is a unique case with a border between Birr and Crinkle and this necessitated the agreement. There are very few borders in other parishes, though they are some – this has meant that a player could play with any club in their parish, though this is not as simple now and there is ample protection for clubs now. Underage clubs are now sub committees of their adult clubs, who must register the players in their area – once a player is registered by an adult club, he is tied to that club and if he wishes to move to another club in that parish, a transfer must be obtained. And generally this can only be got with the approval of his original club, unless residence has been changed.

There has also been problems with county boundaries up and down the years. Leinster Council had to address a major issue between Clonmore Harps and Ballinabrackey on the Meath border with several players from the Clonmore area playing outside their county – at the other end of their area, Clonmore have also had occasional problems with players seeking to play with Rhode.

Again, Clonmore and Ballinbrackey is a unique situation and there are not many cross county parishes in Offaly – there are some with Tubber and Rosemount in Westmeath and Shinrone and Knockshegowna in Tipperary but issues in these areas seem to be rare.

Part of the Carrig and Riverstown area is in Tipperary but they were ceded to Offaly for GAA purposes several decades ago while Moneygall went to Tipperary in the early 20th century – a grievous loss to Offaly, that shouldn't have happened even if they are now a very loyal Tipp club but that is a story for another day.

Part of the problem with Tullamore is that highly populated parts on the suburbs of the town are outside their parish boundary. In Cappincur, this is a quite small area and there are more houses involved at the Charleville end where the border with Rahan parish comes right into the town, very close to the front entrance for Tullamore Harriers. Large parts of Charleville View for example is in Rahan parish and there have been cases of players from here playing with Tullamore.

Like people in Barony Way and on the Daingean Road in Tullamore, across the Barony Bridge, many of these regard themselves as Tullamore people and have none or little connection with the parish where they live.

Cappincur's latest problem, however, is with players well within their territory. It is natural for parents to try and send their children to the club that they played with, or in some cases still play with. It happens all over and you could find at least a dozen examples of players whose legality is dubious, to put it mildly

Tom Martin made a motive objection to the Cappincur motion at Convention, stating that children of some very active Tullamore members have come into their club in the past when underage nurseries and activity was not organised in their area.

He said: “We have a major issue with this motion. I know the rule is the rule but you can't ask whole families to up sticks and move to new clubs. Some of them play hurling and football and could be lost to the GAA. We have a fundamental problem with the motion. It goes against the spirit of the GAA.”

It can be a very emotive subject for some parents, whose will adamantly insist that their children should be allowed to play where they wish and that parish boundaries should be no obstacle to this. Their feelings in the matter are important but in this case, the rules simply must be applied and without exception. Anything else leads to open season and would mean that the parish rule would have to be removed. That is not in Offaly's best interest – you can argue that other counties don't have a parish rule and the GAA has flourished but it has been in existence in Offaly for well over a hundred years and it has served this county well. It certainly shouldn't be removed for a few isolated cases.

It is hard on families but if you want to be a member of and play the GAA, you must abide by its rules. The parish rule is enshrined in Offaly GAA law, none exists in other sports, including the major field ones of soccer and rugby – a player can play where he wishes in these codes.

Tom Martin didn't force a vote on the Cappincur motion at the Convention. He would have known he would have been on a hiding to nothing and would have received very little backing but this issue isn't going to go away any time soon.

In most of the breaches, clubs have turned a blind eye – they are fully aware of players in their area playing for other clubs but for a number of reasons, they chose not to deal with it. In many of those cases, it is for reasons close to what Tom Martin touched on. Not wishing to fall out with parents or families living in their area, not wishing to make life difficult for young people and allowing people freedom of choice – there has always been a belief that you should let a player go if they don't want to play for you.

However, many of these clubs, or rather individuals in those clubs, have been very critical of illegal players and have made no bones about this. In some cases, they have brought their existence of the attention of the County Board – generally in informal comments or approaches and occasionally in formal complaints that must then be investigated and solved.

In a lot of cases they prefer to tell County Board officers about an illegal player in “off the record” chats and hope that the Board will do their “dirty work”. As an unwritten rule, the board haven't acted unless there is a formal complaint made and the result is that players have stayed with their chosen club all their careers.

The Cappincur motion is well intentioned but it also places the responsibility in the County Board's hands and takes it away from clubs.

It is really an unnecessary addition to the rule. As things stand, the rules more than cater for a club to address any players playing illegally outside their area. They simply have to push it, the County Board must investigate then and if a club and player are in breach, then it must be ruled on. That has always been there for clubs but clubs have often not been willing to go down this road.

It is, however, really up to clubs to address any issues that crop up and this will remain the case, even with the new rule. If a player plays in a different parish, his home club will still have to bring it to the attention of the County Board – there is no other way for the County Board to know. That remains the same and the responsbility remains with clubs to deal with players playing illegally and if they chose not to do this – as has happened with many of the cases currently in existence -, that is also their right.

Trivia corner


This week's answers are:

1 - Which Offaly hurling club has the distinction of winning two senior titles in one year?

Answer: Birr 2001.

2 – Name the first Offaly man to win an All-Ireland minor hurling medal?

Answer: Paddy Cloonan (Dublin).

3 – Three clubs won their first Offaly senior football title during three years in succession. Name the clubs and years?

Answer: St Patrick's (Gracefield and St Mary's, which was in Killeigh parish) 1959, Clara 1960 and Gracefield 1961.

Next week's questions are:

1 – Name the two Daingean men to receive the Dowling Cup;

2 – In 1977, Offaly became the first county to achieve this particular feat? What was it?

3 – How many clubs won the Offaly Senior Hurling Championship in the ten year period, 1985 to 1994?

Answers in the next column. With thanks to former referee Carthage Buckley for supplying the questions.

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