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*Clare GAA Chairman, Kieran Keating. Photograph: Natasha Barton

EIGHTEEN teams will compete in the 2022 Clare senior hurling championship as voted for in December, however the discontent with the decision still lingers for some clubs.

In what was the first big test for newly elected Clare GAA Chairman, Kieran Keating, the controversy on whether teams would be relegated from last year’s championship appears to have a reached a conclusion, for now at least.

Clubs returned to Treacy’s West County Hotel for a special meeting on Tuesday evening where relegation from the Clare SHC was the sole item on the agenda. The hosting of the meeting was requested by Broadford, Scariff, Smith O’Briens and Whitegate.

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Clarecastle, Crusheen, Clooney/Quin and O’Callaghans Mills contested the 2021 relegation round-robin series. Noticeably at Tuesday’s meeting, representatives from three of the clubs, Niall Tuohy (Clarecastle), Michael O’Connor (Crusheen), Tony O’Donnell (Crusheen) and Robert Frost (O’Callaghans Mills) were all seated beside each other.

Broadford’s Danny Chaplin was among the first speakers from the floor, reading aloud a letter from his club he questioned if the rules of a competition could be changed twice in the one year, if proper procedure was followed on the taking of votes at the December meeting, if tellers should have been appointed and whether Clare GAA had permission to relegate two teams over the space of two years.

Croke Park confirmed on Tuesday that Clare GAA would get a derogation to allow two teams be relegated from the Clare SHC in 2022 and two more in 2023, secretary Pat Fitzgerald outlined.

Keating said clubs had three days to appeal from when the decision was made following a vote at the December 21st meeting, he said no clubs questioned the procedure followed on the night or appealed the outcome within the three day window.

Winners of the Clare SHC may miss out on participating in the 2022 Munster club campaign if 18 teams are in the race for the Canon Hamilton which will take at least eight weeks to run off, delegates warned. This year’s club championship will start earlier if Clare are out of both All-Ireland campaigns, Keating responded. Concerns on the implications to dual-clubs were also raised.

David Solan of Whitegate flagged that Rule 4.3 of the GAA’s official guide was not followed under Keating’s watch with the 18-16 not representing a two thirds majority. “You had three days to appeal after the meeting if you were not happy,” the Chairman responded and he said he was “not sure” that Rule 4.3 applied in this case.

Crusheen’s Murrough McMahon lets fly. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

No vote should have proceeded and the minutes from that December meeting were not adopted at last week’s County Board meeting, Solan said. This was rejected by the Chairman who pointed out that the minutes were proposed and seconded. “You ran through the minutes as quick as you could,” the Whitegate official responded who highlighted that it was only for Chaplin’s interjection that alerted clubs to the fact that correspondence had been submitted to the meeting, that being the request for a special meeting. Keating insisted he didn’t go through the minutes “quicker than normal”.

Clondegad PRO, Seamus O’Reilly commented, “I’ve been told it is a hurling issue, in my belief it’s a rule issue”. He pointed out that the format for the 2021 Clare SHC including the relegation round-robin was “unanimously agreed in May” and ratified at the June meeting. “For some reason we’ve reached this stage tonight. We can talk about three or four days. If the format was incorrect from day one, why wait until the round robin was over and then appeal, I’d question not the legality but the honesty, if it was wrong from day one, appeal from day one”.

O’Reilly cautioned than an eighteen team Clare SHC would require eight rounds and puts the county’s representation in the Munster club at risk. He criticised the Chairman for not producing the document from Munster Council following Crusheen’s appeal and questioned if Keating was already breaking his commitment to be open and transparent, “what was the secrecy for”. He said the final line of the document from the provincial body detailed that competitions could not be altered once started.

Munster GAA found the round robin relegation series not to be valid, constituted or regulated, Keating replied, “there is no great mystery as to why”. He felt it was not proper to release details of the document, “that’s what I decided, I don’t feel I was wrong”. O’Reilly then probed if it was a decision by the Chairman or the entire Executive. On the night of the vote, Keating said he consulted with the country secretary during the meeting, to consult the entire Executive would have resulted in an adjournment of the meeting.

Rules were ignored, O’Reilly claimed. “I believe we properly applied the rules in December,” the Chairman responded. A competition cannot be altered or changed once it is started, O’Reilly remarked, he expressed worry that the new Chairman would not uphold rules and repeated that no opposition was voiced to the proposal passed on the format in May. Keating questioned why the Clondegad representative was personalising comments and emphasised, “it is we not ye Seamus”.

Failure to provide the document from Munster Council was disappointing in the eyes of Solan. He asked for the Chairman’s interpretation of the final line as highlighted by O’Reilly. “I would be slow to interpret a line on its own,” he replied.

Following up, Solan explained that comments were possibly personalised due to hints from the Crusheen delegate, Tony O’Donnell in December that the new Chairman promised there would be no teams relegated. “Tony O’Donnell made it very clear that he wouldn’t embarrass you. You made your decision and I think it was also wrong that you voted in public, it influenced people looking up at you, it was wrong”.

Not taking a counter-proposal was another issue with the December vote highlighted by Chaplin. Keating said this also needed to be appealed within three days of the sitting. “The integrity of the whole senior championship has been brought into disrepute,” Chaplin maintained.

Repeated attempts to ascertain if the December vote was done legally were voiced by Clonlara’s Flan Mullane. He was fearful of further trouble next November when teams were relegated due to the potential legality or not of the vote. “If there was an issue, clubs had three days to appeal,” Keating stated.

Nervous Clarecastle supporters watch on. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Clarecastle’s Tuohy labelled it as “incredible” that county treasurer, Rebecca Sexton “a Revenue official” would be accused of not being able to count to eighteen. He said Clare GAA was “fortunate to have one of the most knowledgeable officers in the country as our full-time secretary” while referring to the rules applied by the County Board. He believed the relegation issue “has caused enough decision” and called for advice to be given to the four clubs who requested the special meeting if they wished to pursue the matter further. “It is a new year, it is time to move forward not backwards. We need to decide how we structure an eighteen team senior hurling championship”.

Addressing the meeting, Sexton said she counted all the hands in front of her for the vote and insisted any questions regarding the vote should have been raised on the night.

Ballyea Chairman, James Carmody said clubs were not presented with the “full facts” before the vote was cast. He accused the County Chair of “contradicting” himself by referring to a three-day ruling. “You have to follow procedures and policies as Chair, you can’t ignore those issues”.

“Ye debated and voted on it, ye decided. Clubs had an opportunity to appeal, it is done and dusted. There isn’t any point going around and around on this. Ye the delegates decided,” Keating responded.

Referencing the “amount of disquiet,” Carmody pointed out that the decision was “not going down well” and mentioned the amount of conversations sparked.

While telling clubs they effectively needed to “forget about the round robin, it’s as if it never happened, it could almost be regarded as a series of challenge games,” Keating pointed out that it was decided to annul the relegation series. This prompted O’Reilly to say the laws were incorrectly changed and Solan to interject that rules were broken.

“All this debating is not doing Clare GAA any good, we’re all here for the good of Clare GAA,” Scariff’s Dan Treacy commented. The hints of promises made by the Crusheen delegate were “unsavoury and left a bad taste”. He believed 24 clubs could have signed the letter looking for the special meeting.

On the subject of promises, Keating said “the best I can recall is a promise to deal with the relegation fairly”. He assured clubs he had no “particular axe to grind”, in the aftermath of the December vote five clubs told the Chairman they wanted to move on with the matter, “we want to start looking forward. Tony O’Donnell told the meeting Keating had promised to do his best to sort the relegation.

Chaplin said, “we will look forward but we’re entitled to ask questions, were things done right? We are saying they weren’t”. He clarified that the counting ability of the Treasurer was not brought into question. Cratloe Chairman, Kevin Browne advised the meeting they were not one of the clubs contacted by Keating subsequent to the meeting and said he was “disappointed” with how the whole matter was handled.

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