Limerick hurlers let rip

THE Limerick hurling crisis took a sharp twist last night when the 24 disaffected players issued a hard-hitting statement, attacking both Justin McCarthy, their former manager, and their own county board.

The trouble began last October, when manager McCarthy cut 12 players from the panel, several of those among the most high-profile and best-performing members of the 2009 league and championship team, most notably defender Stephen Lucey and forward Niall Moran, along with recent All-Star Andrew O'Shaughnessy, dual star Mark O’Riordan, and ever-present stalwarts Mike O'Brien and Donie Ryan.

Team captain and All-Star nominee Mark Foley was also omitted, but he at least got the courtesy of a phone call informing him of that decision – all the others learned of their fate through the media, which led to a spate of withdrawals by a host of other top names, former captain Damien Reale the first to go. Damien was later joined by such influential stars as Brian Geary, Seamus Hickey, Donal O’Grady, James O’Brien, Gavin O’Mahony and goalkeeper Brian Murray, which left McCarthy with only six of last year’s panel.

At the time of the first cut, Justin did a major interview with a local reporter in which he suggested that indiscipline was a major problem within the panel: “There will always be people who will put you on the wrong track, always guys that will try and break the system and try things on,” he stated; “We weren’t fooled by people who may have stepped out of line in the past year. It didn’t have a huge effect but going forward I will not tolerate that – we have to have a better code of discipline, players have to be honest to themselves, their fellow players and the management…”

Since then, Justin has further suggested that the players were actually plotting against him even before the season ended, that they are now refusing to take phone calls from the management; with this statement, the players have firmly rebutted all those accusations, and made a few of their own, not least against their own county board.

The players statement reads:

We strongly believe that it is in the best interests of Limerick GAA to address an orchestrated series of allegations made by Justin McCarthy and several other prominent figures in the ongoing dispute regarding the 2010 Limerick Senior Hurling panel.

Up to this juncture, we have maintained a dignified silence on this recent controversy. We felt that the procedures relating to the appointment and subsequent vote of confidence in Justin McCarthy must be respected. In this instance, the majority of club delegates supported the motion of “confidence” in the current management set up for the forthcoming season.

We have avoided the need to convene and make a “group statement” up to now as we did not want to compromise in any way the best interests of Limerick hurling and each individual concerned. At this point however, we feel that the public are entitled to get clarity on a number of issues.

The points raised are as a result of the first and only meeting between players who withdrew from the 2010 panel, the majority of players who were dropped from the panel, and the retired players.

1. Origins of this situation

We feel that Justin McCarthy and his selectors are perfectly entitled to select the 30 or so players they chose for the 2010 Limerick Senior hurling panel, and are perfectly entitled to omit any players as they see fit, as is there prerogative. However, the inference that Mr McCarthy made on a newspaper interview on 30th October, 2009 that a number of players were dropped due to a lack of discipline and commitment sparked an extremely negative response from the majority of the 2009 panel. At no time over the course of approximately 100 training sessions or gatherings did Mr McCarthy make any reference to a “lack of discipline or commitment”. Indeed on several occasions, he made the point that this Limerick team was the “most committed he’d ever worked with and were a pleasure to train”. As a result of his failure to clarify instances where discipline was breached or a lack of commitment was evident, each player made a voluntary decision regarding their availability for the 2010 panel under the current management.

2. Players refused to meet management

The 2009 panel have met the County Board on three occasions in a bid to resolve this matter.

On the first occasion, at a meeting in the South Court Hotel in mid November 2009, players’ representatives were asked to consider meeting the 2010 management with a view to discussing the main issues and concerns of panel members. While they were receptive to arranging a meeting, the players felt that it would achieve little, in keeping with previous meetings held with management throughout the year. The County Board officials were of a similar opinion, but offered to relay the main points of the meeting to management. The players’ representatives subsequently received no feedback from the County Board and the matter was let lie.

It was only when there were player withdrawals did the management seek a meeting with the players who withdrew from the panel.

At this point most players were after exploring every avenue available to them in an effort to resolve the issues, and felt a meeting at this stage would be futile.

3. A small group of players are behind this

This is the most damning of all accusations made. A misconception originating from both the County Board and the senior hurling management has gathered momentum that a small number of players are orchestrating an attempt to remove the current Limerick Senior Hurling management and influence the decisions of younger panel members in particular. It is important to stress that at no point was any individual player unduly influenced or forced into making a decision by any other player regarding his future involvement with the 2010 Limerick hurling squad. This decision is, and has been at all times, left up the individual as no player should stand in the way of the career of another player. We would urge the individuals responsible for these false claims to produce factual evidence substantiating same. Otherwise, they should refrain from spreading malicious lies.

One local journalist felt the need to personalise this in what can only be described as a vicious attack on the good name and integrity of a highly respected member of the 2009 hurling panel. This reporter, who does not have the courage of his conviction to name the individual player concerned, would be well advised to reflect on his contribution to Limerick GAA, either in a playing or administrative capacity, before passing judgment on the player concerned.

It must be stressed that players have no problem accepting criticism for on field performances, but it must be stressed that personal or professional criticism of players in the media has no place in the GAA.

4. Communication was not an issue

Justin McCarthy remarked that “It’s not about communication. I think that was a good excuse, initially, but I think as far back as last August some of the players were trying to get rid of us, and didn’t want us on board, because they had their own agenda, really and truly.”

His failure, even still, to extend common courtesy to the dropped players by informing them (either by phone or letter) that they would not be required for the forthcoming season was only one of a series of communication failures on his part over the course of the year.

Players and management were at odds at many points throughout the year. This came to a head before the Qualifier game against Wexford in July of this year when players took the unprecedented step of organising our own game plan in the absence of any acceptance from management that our performances to that point were sub standard.

His further assertion that “players were trying to get rid of us” is without any basis. Our County Board will accept that procedures are in place that all senior inter county panels should have players representatives in place to discuss the issues pertaining to panel members. If players’ attempts to discuss issues with management amounts to having “their own agenda”, then this procedure has failed.

5. County Board Mis-management

This situation has been poorly handled by the County Board on a number of fronts:

• At several points over the course of the 2009 season, they were made aware by players that preparations were not up to the required standards and that team morale was quite poor. They did not feel the need to discuss this at the delegates meeting immediately after the All Ireland semi final defeat to Tipperary, preferring to make reference to Justin McCarthy’s continuation of his two year tenure as Limerick senior hurling manager.

THESE concerns were never relayed to club delegates who were entitled to be made aware of this in the best interests of Limerick GAA. Also, we feel the county board should have insisted that either players representatives be asked to attend the Ballyagran meeting, or else all club delegates (not just those of the players) attend the subsequent meeting in Claughaun, in the interests of fairness and impartiality.

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that many junior and intermediate clubs had been actively canvassed by members of the management and the county board to vote in favour of Justin McCarthy’s retention as Limerick senior hurling manager for 2010. In many cases, false information and rumours were initiated to reflect poorly on certain members of the 2009 panel, and thereby influence the vote.

• One officer made reference in a meeting with players and their delegates that players were responsible for the departure of the last six managers. He, and other county board officers, should maturely recollect this is certainly not the case and should consider the county board’s part in the repeated turnover of managers in Limerick.

Another delegate made reference to “Player Power” being at the core of the current impasse. We strongly refute this claim and wish to state that we respect the decision of the delegates and have no desire to become involved in GAA boardroom politics.

There are huge sacrifices and commitments involved in modern day inter-county hurling, and the players have made an individual decision to make themselves unavailable for 2010 because we feel there is no chance of improvement or success under the present management.

6. Management’s role in influencing players decisions

“We’ve tried to discuss things with them, and they won’t answer our calls, or come face to face and discuss anything.” Justin McCarthy, RTÉ Radio January 13, 2010.

Many players received intimidating phone calls from members of the management and backroom staff putting them under pressure to join the 2010 Limerick Senior Hurling panel. Meetings took place with individual players in a bid to resolve this matter. We appreciate the efforts made by John Tuohy to discuss the situation in an open-minded manner.

We would like to publicly acknowledge the massive public support we have received to date from Limerick Gaels, both near and far. It is unfortunate that events have come to this but the genuine Limerick GAA supporter deserves to be made aware of the full facts surrounding this controversy.

We have full respect for the manner in which the GAA conducts its business. We are acutely aware of the huge honour associated with representing our county and to that end, we have always endeavoured to prepare as diligently as possible, even if results have not always reflected this.

We wish the 2010 panel all the best in their preparation for the forthcoming season and hope that no stone is left unturned to ensure that Limerick are successful. However, we reiterate that we will not play any active part in the 2010 Limerick senior hurling panel while the present management is in place. Is Sinne le meas,

David Bulfin, Tom Condon, Damien Cosgrave, Eoin Foley, Mark Foley, Brian Geary, Seamus Hickey, Stephen Lucey, Wayne McNamara, Denis Moloney, Niall Moran, Ollie Moran, Brian Murray, James O’Brien, Mike O’Brien, Donal O Grady, Gavin O Mahoney, Mark O’Riordan, Andrew O’Shaughnessy, Damien Reale, Donie Ryan, James Ryan, Donncha Sheehan, Stephen Walsh.

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