Niall and Gerry Arthur. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
The Arthurs, Niall and Gerry, Inagh-Kilnamona clubmen and natives of Co. Clare, moved to Piperstown, Monasterboice, in January of this year having previously lived in Dublin, where they hurled with O’Toole’s.
Niall teaches at Donacarney Boys National School outside of Drogheda, while Gerry, the elder of the pair, is a teacher in Raheny, Co. Dublin. Their Louth residence is at the home of Niall’s former colleague - and current county team selector - John Joe Conneely.
Under rule 6.10 of the GAA’s rulebook, which allows ‘outside players’ to represent the county of their residence, without having to play club hurling there, the duo were granted permits to represent Louth this season, along with Mark Molloy of Wexford.
They joined a team who had won just once in 18 months, a side who were favourites for relegation from Division 3A of the National Hurling League following their round one drubbing in Roscommon.
However, the Munster men’s impact was immediate as they opened their account with a home victory over a fancied Tyrone outfit. Niall scored 2-9 on that occasion and over the following games he recorded 0-11, 4-12 (a NHL scoring record), 1-8 and 0-9, bringing his overall tally to 7-49 in just five matches, as the Reds qualified for an unlikely league final clash with Warwickshire.
Gerry, a former Clare senior team panellist, played his part too, with his craft vital to their four-match unbeaten run prior to the divisional decider.
Hopes were high hurling-wise in the county, in stark contrast to the footballers whose points-campaign ended in disaster, ahead of the Nicky Rackard Cup, an All-Ireland competition in which the county has endured so much heart-break. Shane Callan and Ronan Byrne, among others, losers of four Rackard finals since 2005; this could have been the year where they got their day in the sun.
But what has gone on for the past two-and-a-half months has been dramatic and unfairly mars the impact the Arthurs have had on the Louth hurlers' season.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
In the aftermath of round five, the final round, of the league - where Louth’s draw with Monaghan was enough to send them into the final against Warwickshire, at the Farney side’s expense, came the first query over their eligibility.
“The first inquiry that was made to us was after that match. We were asked by the referee to sign our name and our address and where we were living,” Niall says, as the Arthur brothers and your writer sit down in a quiet corner of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dundalk.
“We were warming down, Monaghan were warming down at the opposite end of the pitch and the referee had gone off, but he actually came back and asked to speak to numbers 10 and 11. It was very bizarre and peculiar”. The date was Sunday, March 11.
Two days prior to the league final, March 22, a letter was requested by the Louth Co. Board, on the GAA’s behalf, from the brothers’ landlord, John Joe Conneely, to assure of their residence, to which he complied, stating: “To whom this may concern, I wish to state that the Arthur brothers, Ger and Niall, have resided at my County Louth property since the resumption of the school year in January 2018.”
On the day of the league final, there was another consultation before throw-in when a member of the Louth Co. Board requested the Arthurs to sign another document to confirm their address. They adhered and played the match.
By this point, the championship was six weeks away, with Warwickshire set to visit again on May 13. There were several further queries in the interim period, all of which were handled in conversation between members of Louth Co. Board and Niall Arthur. Though, crucially, no details relating to the origin or basis of the scepticism were ever made known to the Arthurs, despite their repeated requests.
On April 25, another document was submitted, upon request, by Conneely, stating: “I Sean O Conghaile of Piperstown Monasterboice Co. Louth hereby declare that Ger Arthur and Niall Arthur are currently residing with me at my home at Piperstown, Monasterboice, Co. Louth during their working week.”
It was also signed, dated and officially stamped by a member of Drogheda Garda Station.
All the while preparations for Louth’s championship opener were ongoing. On May 1, following a challenge match at Darver, Niall Arthur and the Louth management were called into a meeting with the Co. Board chairman and secretary, Des Halpenny and Fra Kieran. A letter was presented to Arthur - which was a summarised version, he maintains, and not the original document as distributed by Croke Park, reading: “Requirements for proof of permanent residence: Must be on Garda official paper stamped and signed It has to come from the local area Garda station Hand written proof of address is not acceptable This will also be follow [sic] up by superior of Garda who completed and signed the document to proof of permanent address.”
On Wednesday, May 2, the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) are believed to have sent the Louth Co. Board notification that the players’ permits to represent the county were to be withdrawn. There was a three-day window in which to appeal the ruling, starting from the day the email was issued.
However, the first correspondence made with the Arthurs to notify them of the ruling, the Clare men argue, came on Friday, May 4, via a text conversation between Niall Arthur and Fra Kieran, at 10:57pm. Though, the official email was not forwarded to Arthur until the Saturday morning, by which time the window of appeal had elapsed.
It explained that the Arthur brothers had, in the opinion of the CCCC, not demonstrated sufficient proof of residency in Louth. Thus their permits would be revoked.
On Sunday, May 6, Niall Arthur says the Louth Co. Board informed him that they would not be aiding them in their appeals process.
Gerry Arthur maintains that he was not sent the email or any official correspondence of his permit being withdrawn.
At that point, the Arthurs went to the Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA), who advised them to appeal to the Central Appeals Committee (CAC), despite the window of appeal having ended. Their appeal was duly rejected on the grounds that the associated €300 fee had not been forthcoming and that the deadline had passed.
On May 13, Louth face Warwickshire, without the Arthurs, and lose heavily, 3-19 to 1-16.
An appeal to the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) was considered, at the cost of €2,000, in a bid to have their ineligibility overturned in time for the Rackard Cup round two encounter with Longford, on May 20. Due to the substantial financial outlay, they opted against this.
On May 17, Eamonn Murphy, of the GPA, advised the Arthurs to re-submit their details to the GPA, with either/or a declaration from a Peace Commissioner or a member of An Garda Siochana, vouching for their residence in Monasterboice.
Niall duly obliged on the pair’s behalf, submitting another headed and officially stamped declaration on Thursday night, May 18. The document was signed by a member of Drogheda Garda Station.
On Friday morning, May 19, Niall sent off a similar statement from a Peace Commissioner, despite it being unnecessary having already offered up a letter signed by a Garda.
The CCCC acknowledged the submission, before explaining that they would be unable to convene until after the match with Longford. Thus, the players missed a second match, where Louth’s chances of a semi-final place were effectively ended following a 0-19 to 0-12 loss.
Prior to the match, CCCC secretary, Fergal McGill confirmed to Louth manager Philip O’Brien that Monaghan, who are managed by Louth-native Trevor Hilliard, was the county that submitted the query as to Arthurs' eligibility.
The CCCC eventually met on Tuesday, May 29, to deliberate the matter, ahead of last Saturday’s round three clash with Monaghan, as they previously said they would, before inviting the Arthurs to a meeting at Croke Park last Thursday night, May 31.
Niall said: “We went to a meeting on Thursday night, in Box 644 of the Cusack Stand, ourselves (Gerry and Niall) and Ned Quinn (CCCC chairman), Fergal McGill (CCCC secretary) and John O’Shaughnessy (CCCC).
“Fergal confirmed that it was Monaghan who lodged the objection as Philip (O’Brien) found out, but, to this day, we’re still without written confirmation of that.
“I was also asked about saying that I lived 15 minutes away from my school in Donacarney and they were asking how I was only 15 minutes away. It turns out that they thought that I was working in Donnycarney in Dublin.”
On Friday morning, June 1, 82 days after the first query relating to their residency, the Arthurs received a notice from the CCCC to say that their appeal had failed and that their permits would remain withdrawn.
To this day, Gerry Arthur maintains that he received no formal notification from the Louth Co. Board to say that his permit to play for the county has been withdrawn.
On Friday afternoon, The Democrat approached both CCCC secretary Fergal McGill and Louth County Board chairman Des Halpenny for comment on the issues addressed in our interview with Niall and Gerry Arthur.
Fergal McGill was asked the following:
- Can I confirm that the above (the upholding of the Arthurs' permit withdrawal stands) is the case? And, if so, having provided the details which I am confident that they have, what was the grounds behind the decision?
- I am of the understanding that Monaghan were the county who lodged the objection to the Arthurs representing Louth. However, according to the Arthur brothers, they have not received confirmation of this in writing. Can I ask if this is the case and, if so, why this may be the case?
McGill responded within an hour: "From time to time, information can be brought to the attention of the CCCC as to the eligibility of players to represent a club or county. This does not necessarily have to be in the form of a formal objection (and in this case it was not a formal objection). Depending on the nature of the information, CCCC may decide to investigate further - which is what happened in this case.
"To that end, the Arthur brothers simply were asked to provide evidence of their residency at a given address in Louth. The CCCC were not satisfied that the evidence provided was sufficient to demonstrate their compliance with the conditions outlined in Rule 6.10 of the Official Guide. It was on this basis that their permission to play was withdrawn."
Des Halpenny was asked:
- Can I ask if Louth GAA backed the players in their bid to have the original decision - made on May 2 - overturned in a bid to represent the county in the Nicky Rackard Cup?
- Was it a case that Louth GAA failed to notify the players in time as the window of appeal, as according to the Arthurs, had elapsed by the time they were informed?
- Gerry Arthur maintains that he has yet to be informed officially by Louth GAA that his permit to represent the county has been withdrawn. Have you any comment to make on this?
Louth GAA responded, saying that they would not comment on team matters until after the conclusion of the championship.