AN impassioned plea from the floor that county senior football panellist Jonah Culligan and his Ballyvaughan clubmate Philip Queally be allowed play at Under 21 level with St Breckan’s fell on deaf ears at last Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the Clare County Board in its Áras Chíosóg headquarters in Clareabbey.
Despite the appeal having the sympathy of clubs and the county board, both the top table of the county board and the Lissycasey club came out against the move before it was finally rejected.
The proposal to allow both Culligan and Queally play with St Breckan’s was tabled by St Breckans’ Kieran Flanagan. “Nine years ago Ballyvaughan were lacking in numbers, basically they joined with us and basically for the last nine years we been having them as isolated players with us, right through under 12, 14, 16 and minor,” he revealed.
“It worked very well up to now and has benefited both clubs. We brought through Jonah Culligan and Philip Queally. They are the two players that are still playing with us. Unfortunately this year a serious oversight on our part paperwork wise, the paperwork basically wasn’t done on time. We are left with the situation that the lads can’t play. After nine years they are part of our club at his stage — it was very devastating for me to have to meet the lads the other night and say due to a serious mishap on our part they couldn’t play for us,” he added.
Continuing, Mr Flanagan said that the St Breckan’s club was “devastated” by their own oversight. “Is there anything you can do for us, the two players pleaded with us. I am pleading. It was a mishap between the secretary in Breckan’s and the secretary in Ballyvaughan, an unfortunate thing. Everything had worked perfectly up to this year, but this year the paperwork didn’t go through. Jonah Culligan only had three or four matches for Ballyvaughan this year — he is on Colm Collins’ senior squad, these young lads needs to be getting games,” he added.
PJ McGuane and Joe Kelly (both of the Cooraclare club) backed the St Breckan’s appeal, but from their point of view of also being involved Bord na nÓg Peil, not Cooraclare, who were St Breckans’ first round opponents.
“I want to make it quite clear,” said PJ McGaune, “that I don’t represent Cooraclare. I am here as vice-chairman of the Clare County Board and chairman of the underage committee. The rule of thumb we always used was that if a club had isolated players for a number of years, if they didn’t change status, i.e, they’re playing at the top grade. I don’t see that there should be any problem.
“I do not represent Cooraclare and I’d be shot for saying what I’m saying, but I’m a sportsman. If these young lads played with this club all their lives I see no problem in the world with they being allowed to play. I see no problem,” he added.
“I signed the book for Cooraclare tonight, but am Bord na nÓg secretary,” said Joe Kelly. “St Breckan’s came down and agreed to play the Garry Cup final in Cooraclare this year. They didn’t have to, they did it and I want to acknowledge that. From a first round perspective I’d have no problem (if they play) but I can’t speak for other clubs if Breckan’s happen to beat us and go on. From our perspective I wouldn’t have an issue with it, if the county board passes it,” he added.
“Tubber’s Michael Lee proposed that they be allowed play with St Breckan’s. “Would we not have the power, if we were unanimous, to allow them,” he said. “It is a procedural matter, the fact that the secretary or some one made a mistake, the poor players are the victims. Would it not be possible if we were unanimous as a board that we could rubber-stamp them to play at Under 21. I propose that the board could be unanimous in allowing them to play.”
“There is a deadline for isolated players,” responded board chairman Joe Cooney, “and unfortunately there was another club in that situation earlier in the year and they were registered before the deadline date. Are we setting a precedent now?,” he added.
“Lissycasey GAA club deal with isolated players through Kilmaley and there’d always be a deadline of first of April or whatever and you’d say maybe lads would come in a week later and that’s it now. But if we go in and set a precedent to allow players through in November, I don’t think, I agree with the secretary that you’re setting a precedent,” said Eamonn Finnucane of Lissycasey.
“I have managed teams in Lissycasey and I know one particular young fella was not allowed play in the months of May and June and we lost a good Under 14 manager over it. Rules are rules and we stuck by them and that was it. I think it’s a bit Irish coming in here looking for two isolated players to play in November. That would be my view on it,” he added.
“There are clubs dying on their feet all over this county,” said Meelick delegate Padraig O’Brien. “Are we as a body tonight going to say to these two players that they cannot play Under 21 football. These are two lads who want to play football. Are we going to play club politics here now and see these two players take up another code. That’s what we’ll potentially do here tonight,” he added.
County board secretary, Pat Fitzgerald was asked by the board chairman for his view on St Breckans’ predicament. “I’m the most unpopular person in this county, so I’m not going to get involved,” he began.
“Everybody knows the rules. If ye don’t want to comply with them… I’m not going to stop anyone playing. I’d just like to ask the question, as ye very sure about what we’re saying about past years. I am not asking any questions and am not putting any obstacles in anybody’s way. It’s up to you yourselves. Everybody knows the rules and I’m not going to outline them,” he added.
Then after a renewed appeal by both the St Breckan’s and Ballyvuaghan clubs, Mr Fitzgerald said, “If the cat had kittens here I’d be responsible. I want to make it clear there are lots of cats that have kittens and I’m not responsible. I feckin’ tell ye, I’m not going to get caught in this one. Everyone knows the rules are there. It’s up to ye, if ye think ye can change them, I’m not going to explain the consequences, I’m not getting involved in it,” he added.
“We have no choice,” concluded the board chairman. “We’d love to be able to do something, but unfortunately the time of the year it is, our hands are tied,” he added, finally ruling out the request that both Culligan and Queally be allowed play with St Breckan’s this season.

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Joe Ó Muircheartaigh graduated from University College Dublin in 1989 with a degree in history and politics. After completing a Diploma in Journalism at The College of Commerce, Rathmines in 1991, he embarked on a career in journalism.
Joe spent four years with Clare FM from 1992 and was with The Clare Champion from 1996 to 2005. He has won two McNamee Awards for GAA journalism and has published two books.

Contact Joe on jomuircheartaigh@clarepeople.ie

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