Deposed Offaly senior football manager Stephen Wallace has contradicted a number of claims made by county chairman Tommy Byrne.
Declaring the players are now being “held to ransom” by the Offaly board, Wallace countered Byrne’s remarks yesterday that he was only informed about Wallace’s failed appeal against an eight-week suspension on Sunday.
According to Wallace, he alerted Byrne to Munster Council’s decision to uphold his ban for an altercation in a Kerry IFC game last month as soon as he was informed last Friday.
He also insisted Byrne was aware that he was barred from GAA activities last month.
“Look it, the main thing to take out of this was why was I removed from this position,” the Ardfert man told the Irish Examiner.
“He’s claiming that he didn’t hear about my appeal being unsuccessful until Sunday, the day of the game. That is untrue, completely without substance. I met with the Munster Council on Friday night in their offices in Limerick for my appeal and as soon as they came back with their verdict, telling me that it was unsuccessful, the very first person I contacted on Friday evening was the chairman of the Offaly County Board, Mr Tommy Byrne.
“He also made reference that I wasn’t suspended because it was an appeal process. When I had my hearing with the Kerry appeals committee and they informed me that my suspension was upheld the very first person I contacted was the chairman of the Offaly County Board, Mr Tommy Byrne.
“The only request I had for him was that he would keep it in-house because I didn’t want a media frenzy after this because it had died down at that stage.
Wallace claims Byrne was “quite jovial” when he first told him about the suspension — “he referred to an incident where he nearly got into a row at a club match a couple of nights before it. He had to step off the field with a fella. That’s not significant but there was never any concern or a problem about it (his ban).”
Byrne refused to confirm whether he had read out the players’ statement supporting Wallace at Wednesday night’s Offaly management committee meeting, where the Kerryman’s fate was sealed.
Wallace responded: “To disrespect the players and the way they have been treated is very wrong, and I really feel sorry for these players. They’ve been held to ransom and they’ve been treated so shabbily.
“To say it’s got nothing to do with the players ... it’s all about the players. They’re paramount in the whole thing. They’re the Offaly senior football panel. To say it’s got nothing to do with them and his refusal to reference their statement, which was handed to the county board.”
Wallace disagreed that another statement by the players yesterday would have underlined their backing for him and embarrassed the board.
“These young lads are footballers, they don’t need to be embroiled in this debacle. Their statement is strong and forceful and they don’t need to say anymore.”
The two-time All-Ireland junior football winning manager insists he is remorseful about what he did in the Ardfert-John Mitchels game, which meant he couldn’t be involved in Sunday’s defeat to Wicklow in O’Moore Park.
“What happened is regretful and I’m sorry and remorseful but I had never been put off in my entire playing career or as a manager and that was something I really prided myself in. I let myself down. It was a derby and I had friends and brothers involved and, look, I shouldn’t have done what I did. I’m serving my suspension but how many times do I have to be punished for the same crimes because if Offaly had an issue with it back then then the rational decision to remove me from my post should have been done then. We’re seven months into a three-year plan.
“Logically, the decision makes no sense. I won’t be the last person in the GAA to be suspended but will that mean every person that is suspended will be thrown under a bus? If, indeed, that is the decision I was removed from my position.”
Wallace says the players face “an uphill battle and they’re playing against the wind, if you will” working with the board.
He defended his record during his brief time in charge.
“We went into rebuild a panel — that was the remit given to me by the county board. They’re well aware of the players we currently don’t have at our disposal due to retirement, injuries, work commitments and people out of the country.
“We put together a young panel, they’re learning their trade, we’ve got to the semi-final of the O’Byrne Cup, we beat Westmeath for the first time in 12 years, we went down to Wexford in a must-win relegation game and were the first Offaly team to win in Wexford in 23 years.”
He felt the way Offaly’s loss to Wicklow at the weekend was perceived was disrespectful to Wicklow and John Evans.
“Wicklow have a great football tradition. There are great Wicklow club teams like Rathnew, who beat St Vincent’s last year.
“There are some excellent footballers in Wicklow and they have an astute, shrewd manager in John Evans.”
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