Less than two months on from this column’s polemic against the Limerick District League Committee’s (LDLC) handling of John Boyle’s January transfer request, not much has changed.
In response to having an ultra-rare slice of accountability served up to them, our fair city’s junior soccer administrators are showing no signs of changing their stripes. Happy instead to keep calm, shoot the messenger, and carry on, the LDLC have already managed to unnecessarily pull another club through the Munster Football Association (MFA) appeal wringer.
This time it was the turn of Division 1B’s Athlunkard Villa, managed by Roy O’Connell, who fell foul of our dear administrators’ club loyalties.
Some readers may have noticed that Athlunkard, despite being eliminated from the 1B Cup by Hyde Rangers on February 26, are slated to face Southend United on Sunday, May 7, in the same competition. How could that be?
Subsequent to that disappointing defeat, for which Hyde stalwart and LDLC chairman Christy O’Dwyer was in attendance, O’Connell was made aware that their victorious opponents fielded a player from their ‘B’ team — ineligible for ‘A’ team selection in divisional cup matches.
The Hyde team photo that appeared in the following morning’s Limerick Leader, which damningly only featured ten players, became the centrepiece of Athlunkard’s subsequent objection — heard by the LDLC that same week.
Upon being called in to defend against Athlunkard’s accusation, a Hyde representative offered the implausible explanation that the missing player was busy sourcing a badly-needed inhaler. Incredibly, this version of events was apparently accepted, as O’Connell’s appeal was thrown out due to “lack of proof”.
Now, you might well ask: where was the LDLC’s chairman when this decision was taken? O’Dwyer recused himself due to a conflict of interest; which is pretty ironic, given that one of his fellow officers failed to take that very same action when presented with a vote on Boyle’s Pike Rovers future.
Unfortunately for O’Dwyer, the MFA rulebook has something quite different to say about how officers should act in such instances. Rule 23 of that very book clearly states that: “members of the club…concerned who may be members of Council, shall not have the privilege of being present (except in the capacity of a witness)“.
But, of course, it wouldn’t be right to “rat on (one’s) club” now, would it?
Speaking of which, there is also the small matter of the game’s match-card, which was mysteriously not returned to council by the presiding referee on the day.
Forced to instead source a copy from a journalist present, one with links to both Hyde and the LDLC, the King’s Island club were amused to discover that certain players listed in Hyde’s matchday squad were not even present at the ground on the morning in question!
Photos that later surfaced of Hyde ‘B’s divisional cup final against Dromore Celtic only strengthened Athlunkard’s appeal case, as O’Connell and co. were then able to send the MFA clear photographic evidence that there were, in fact, THREE players who featured in both encounters.
The below shot of O’Dwyer attending the game in question, plus a copy of the match-card, also winged their way to Cork, fueling an appeal outcome that was a fait accompli from the get-go.
Eventually, on Thursday, April 27, Athlunkard finally received word that the latest in a long line of wrong-headed LDLC decisions had been overturned by their regional overseers.
Meanwhile, Caherdavin Celtic, who have already qualified for the final, must wait for the entire other side of the draw to resolve itself — madness.
Now, let’s make one thing clear at this juncture: this column is not attempting to demonise Hyde Rangers, nor is it looking to pin this mess on their shoulders. Hyde, like many other clubs before them, are simply taking advantage of the fact that rules are only strictly enforced by the LDLC when it suits — think back, again, to the Boyle affair.
The lower divisions have largely been a wild-west free-for-all, where anything goes, for some time now, and it’s not Hyde’s fault that no-one is watching. If anything, Athlunkard and O’Connell are the fools for trying to do things the right way, when few others are bothered.
That’s the thing about junior soccer in this city: those who comport with themselves with integrity get nowhere fast, while the incestuous, you-scratch-my-back, old boy’s club — and the followers who hang on their every word — laughs at their expense.
This column’s take on the Boyle saga failed to generate a single comment on the popular, hilariously-named, ‘No Holds Barred’ Facebook forum, for example. And, yet, one could think of a few individuals, who love to be liked, that could generate hundreds of ‘likes’ on that very forum, simply for reminding us that the sky is blue.
Public opinion on the piece chose to overlook the large helping of truth contained within, opting instead to focus on the fact that it lifted the lid on the apparently jealously-guarded secret of who might be related to Pike’s goalkeeper.
It is clear to me now, therefore, that a large proportion of Limerick junior soccer stakeholders don’t want to see the unpalatable truth laid out in black-and-white in front of them. They are happy with the status quo. This is why nothing will happen at this year’s LDLC AGM to change it. This is why clubs like Athlunkard — honest clubs — are forced to wade through rivers of muck to see justice served.
And this is also why Limerick junior soccer’s standards are in terminal decline, dragged down by a whole host of individuals that are desperately unworthy of the wide variety of positions bequeathed to them. It is in those individuals’ mutual interest that the status quo remains untouched.
On Friday, May 19, many of those same individuals will be front-and-centre, when Limerick junior soccer’s goodest and greatest sit around the Pearse Stadium clubhouse to mutually backslap, and reassure each other that everything is awesome. It isn’t. And that’s as much the fault of you, reader, as it is anyone else’s.
You can follow Alan O’Brien on Twitter at @alanob2112