By Jackie Cahill
The Sigerson Cup has been rocked by an eligibility row on the eve of finals weekend – with Garda College appealing against their defeat to Ulster University in round 2 of the competition.
It has emerged that while Down’s Niall Madine was given the green light at the eleventh hour to line out against Garda College, he was later deemed ineligible, and should not have played.
To rub salt into Garda wounds, Madine was one of the leading players for the Jordanstown-based outfit on the day, kicking four points as they went through after extra-time.
Monaghan’s Kieran Hughes, while listed in the Ulster University squad, was withdrawn from the fixture after learning that he was ineligible but the presence of Madine in the UU line-up has led to Garda seeking reinstatement in the competition.
Red tape means they are unlikely to succeed, however, even though they boast a strong case.
Garda learned on February 10 that Madine was ineligible under a rule relating to the duration of no more than two recognised courses of study.
But the Garda game was played on January 31 and under Higher Education GAA rules, that falls outside the three-day window open for any appeal.
Garda have indicated that they only received notification of Madine’s situation on February 10 – and are arguing that should be the date they were allowed to appeal from.
Adding to Garda’s sense of grievance is the fact that had they submitted paperwork within that official three-day window, the likelihood is that the UU result would have been deemed null and void, with Garda progressing to a quarter-final against holders UCD.
In correspondence with Higher Education GAA officials, Garda believe that “vital information” was kept from them, which had a “huge bearing on the result.”
Garda have requested a formal investigation into the matter and a committee meeting is scheduled for Friday evening – after both semi-finals at the Connacht GAA Centre have been completed.
Privately, Garda are not confident of winning their case but requested, as an “interim remedy”, that the Sigerson competition be suspended pending the outcome of the appeal.
Higher Education GAA chiefs are insistent that the semi-finals will go ahead as scheduled – but Garda’s appeal against the Ulster University result casts another shadow over a competition that has been beset by eligibility issues in recent years.
It is understood that when panels were declared, a number of Ulster University players were queried, with decisions on as many as six deferred until January 30, the night before the Garda fixture.
Four players were deemed eligible but Madine and Hughes were not.
Ulster University still managed to get clearance for Madine to line out but it later transpired that he was not eligible to play.
UU lost to UCD in the quarter-finals, and the champions will play University of Limerick on Friday at 4pm, following the St Mary's/UCC fixture at 2pm.