It’s a story familiar to GAA people all over the country. A stormy annual general meeting, members walking out, transfer applications handed in afterwards.
Usually it’s smoothed over before the first league game of the year, but not in the West Cork club of Ballinascarthy, however, where toxic fumes from the 2011 AGM continue to pollute the atmosphere.
For its part, Ballinascarthy GAA club have this to say on the fallout over the last couple of years: “The club has from the outset of this issue maintained a dignified silence and unanimously believes that no comment should be made at this point. The club offers its best wishes to those players who wish to move elsewhere from the club.”
Former player Denis O’Sullivan explains the background, and how appointment of a new hurling management team precipitated the crisis.
“The outgoing hurling management team had been doing a good job in 2011,” he says. “We had won three championship games in 2011 for the first time in 10 years.”
Several club members left the AGM when the new manager was ratified, but they weren’t the usual dissatisfied rump: they included long-serving players, a former treasurer and former selectors and trainers.
“The lads involved are people with huge experience and commitment to the club,” says O’Sullivan.
“It wasn’t about us not wanting to play under the person who was appointed — that’s making it out it was us dictating who the manager was.
“We weren’t happy with the process applied by the committee which made the appointment.”
Efforts to make peace came to a halt soon afterwards when a club meeting shot down a proposal to bring in an arbitrator. Eventually, several of the players — including O’Sullivan and two of his brothers — sought transfers from Ballinascarthy to various clubs around the county.
“It’s not a case of me being the only one trying to leave Ballinascarthy,” says O’Sullivan. “Several players have had their transfers approved and other players and mentors haven’t been involved since that AGM.”
O’Sullivan, a Cork senior football panellist, became a focal point for criticism locally when he couldn’t present medals to the Ballinascarthy underage section because he was involved in a charity boxing tournament.
“It was put around that I’d left them in the lurch,” he says. “That I’d just pulled out of it. Not true at all.”
Last April, O’Sullivan was told one Thursday evening at training by Cork football manager Conor Counihan that he had to line out for his club side to remain in consideration for the county team; when O’Sullivan left Páirc Uí Rinn that evening a club officer was waiting and asked if he’d be playing for Ballinascarthy that weekend.
“I felt he was there to make a scene if I’d said I wouldn’t play,” says O’Sullivan.
His performance against Muintir Bhaire in Ballinacarraga that weekend has fuelled plenty of rumours around Cork since.
“I shouldn’t have played that evening,” he says now. “My head was all over the place.”
O’Sullivan kicked two wides before being substituted 15 minutes into the game.
“But contrary to the stories that circulated afterwards, I didn’t kick a ball over the sideline, I didn’t handpass the ball to the opposition and I didn’t throw my jersey at the selectors when I came off.
“I hold my hands up now and admit that what I did might have looked wrong. I don’t deny it must have looked desperate from the outside, but it certainly wasn’t intentional, I just shouldn’t have played the game as I was very aggrieved at the way a few of us were being treated.”
From then on the situation deteriorated. O’Sullivan was abused on Facebook and his relatives started getting prank phone calls.
O’Sullivan made the gardaí aware of confrontations with former team-mates on nights out, though in his view “confrontations” is a pallid term for what has happened.
“One of the previous selectors started getting abusive texts, registered and anonymous letters,” says O’Sullivan.
“He had been the main club sponsor for six or seven years. One of the old club jerseys was put up on the darts board in a pub and darts thrown at his business logo when Ballinascarthy were beaten in the hurling championship in 2012.
“If that’s the kind of club they want to run, off with them, but I don’t want to be any part of that in the future. Most of the people in Ballinascarthy GAA are decent people, of course they are,” says O’Sullivan. “But I feel they’ve seen the treatment we’ve received and are nearly afraid to open their mouths in case some of the nastiness is pointed in their direction.”
O’Sullivan is keen to place his side of the story in the public domain.
“I know there’s a perception around the county that I’m this fella who’s gotten too big for his boots as a result of being on the Cork senior football panel for a couple of years and is now trying to transfer from the small junior club to the big-town senior club.
“To be honest, if I’d heard this story about another player I’d probably be thinking the same, but media coverage of my transfer has made no mention of the trouble in the club, or the fact that there are other players who have sought and received transfers.”
In his case, O’Sullivan’s transfer was turned down by the Cork County Board, and his appeal against the decision has also been turned down by the board’s Hearings Committee.
He can play hurling for Clonakilty in June, having last played hurling for Ballinascarthy in August 2011, but he’ll have to wait until 2014 to play football for Clon.
“Obviously I’m disappointed the transfer hasn’t gone through,” he says. “I submitted plenty of evidence to prove I was living in Clonakilty.
“Ballinascarthy claim they haven’t objected to my transfer, but if this is the case then why were there two senior members of the club at both my hearings? “But it was also disappointing that the [Cork County] board didn’t take more of an interest in the fact that there was clearly bullying going on through Facebook. The board was provided with documented proof, and the lack of reaction is disappointing when you consider the GAA itself launched a national anti-bullying campaign a couple of weeks ago.”
(The Cork County Board stated that in this case it was satisfied the appropriate procedures had been followed in dealing with the case.)
“Until a couple of years ago the club was really the focal point of my life,” he says. “It’s where I started playing hurling and football and until November 2011 me and my older brothers John and Pa were very involved, coaching underage teams and looking after the hurleys, jerseys and sliotars for the adult teams.
“What’s happened since then is tragic and sad.”
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