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How a loophole in the GAA rulebook helped Ballyboden win their first Dublin football crown

The first Dublin SFC Ballyboden St Enda’s lifted in 1995 arrived in controversial circumstances.

Updated Sep 27th 2020, 12:00 PM

LATER TODAY, BOTH the footballers of Ballyboden St Enda’s and Loughmore Castleiney will attempt to recover from last week’s hurling final defeats and bring home football honours in Dublin and Tipperary respectively.

shane-durkin-dejected Shane Durkin after losing the Dublin SHC final last weekend. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Playing two senior county finals in the space of seven days brings a physical and psychological toll, particularly after the majority of the dual players have been in action week-on-week for the past couple of months.

While the mid-Tipperary side have up to a dozen players on the first XV in both codes, the task facing Ballyboden is a little less ominous. As reigning football champions, they have just one starter from the hurling side that fell to Cuala last weekend – Conal Keaney.

The evergreen 38-year-old grabbed 1-1 in the five-point loss to the Dalkey outfit, while Simon Lambert will feature off the bench on Sunday at some point. Fellow stickmen Stephen O’Connor, Shane Durkin, Conor Dooley and Paddy Dunleavy also populate Anthony Rainbow’s football squad.  

Last season, the southside superclub scraped over the line against Carlow’s Éire Óg in the Leinster final. They were warm favourites to meet Corofin in the All-Ireland final, but fell to Kilcoo at the penultimate stage.

Just three weeks later they returned to training ahead of the Dublin league return, with the championship set to begin in April. That’s not a lot of time for a group of players to grieve an All-Ireland semi-final defeat and rest up tired bodies that had trained right through Christmas without a break. 

niall-branigan-consoles-tom-hayes Kilcoo's Niall Branigan consoles Tom Hayes of Ballyboden St. Enda's after the All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Covid-enforced delay in the GAA calendar gave Ballyboden the off-season they’d been craving. They returned to action reinvigorated in July and have hardly looked back since, though they rode their luck in the last eight extra-time win over Raheny.

Ballyboden are an extremely physically imposing outfit and only today’s opponents Ballymun Kickhams are on their level athletically in Dublin. That’s why it’s such a mouth-watering showdown, with inter-county talent sprinkled in every sector of the field. 

Ballyboden overcame a seasoned St Jude’s outfit in the semi-final despite missing two of their most important players through injury – Michael Darragh Macauley (quad) and Collie Basquel (knee).

Macauley’s talents are obvious and few have matched his achievements in the game at club and county level, while Basquel would be a leading forward for any Division 1 side outside of Dublin and Kerry.

Later this year he’ll join a legion of Sky Blue forwards queueing up for game-time under Dessie Farrell. The pair were in a race to prove their fitness this week and their absence would be a significant blow to Ballyboden’s hopes of retaining their Dublin crown for the first time in the club’s history.

Ballyboden have other capable scorers in Keaney, Ryan Basquel and Ross McGarry, but none possess the X-factor of the younger Basquel. 

conal-keaney Conal Keaney is a key man for Ballyboden St Enda's in both codes. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

The reigning champions have a very respectable record in Dublin SFC finals having lost just once in five trips to the decider – to Kilmacud Crokes in 2004. Yet for a club that has about 3,000 members and fields over 170 teams, they have only started to enjoy success on the senior football front relatively recently. 

Before 2009, Ballyboden had only one senior football crown in their history and even that 1995 victory was shrouded in controversy. 

Five days after ‘Boden defeated Erins Isle in the county final, a three-hour Dublin county board meeting awarded the title to the southside club to conclude a messy dispute that is worth revisiting.

But it wasn’t until the Leinster Council threw out an appeal some weeks later that Ballyboden were finally confirmed as Dublin winners for the first time.

Parnell Park received a facelift during 1995 so both that year’s Dublin SFC semi-finals took place in Croke Park – a novel departure for the club game in the capital.

Weeks after Dublin’s All-Ireland final success against Tyrone, Ballyboden overcame a St Vincent’s side that included a young Pat Gilroy, while a talented Erin’s Isle outfit dumped out reigning All-Ireland champions Kilmacud Crokes in the other semi-final. 

Erin’s Isle had a team littered with members of Pat O’Neill’s Dublin squad, backboned by Keith Barr, Mick Deegan, Robbie Boyle and Charlie Redmond, though he missed the club campaign after he was sent-off (twice) in the All-Ireland final.

Ballyboden, participating in their maiden senior football final, were led by All-Star and former AFL player Brian Stynes at midfield. 

Stynes, younger brother of late Aussies Rules legend Jim, was badly hampered by shoulder injury he sustained in the semi-final. He was considered a doubt right up until throw-in and in truth shouldn’t have played. But he soldiered through the game effectively on one arm until he finally gave up the battle midway through the second period.

The Irish Independent’s player ratings said of Stynes, “sometimes heart and guts cannot subdue pain and eventually we saw this great warrior sadly leave the pitch like a wounded swan.”

But Stynes added a Dublin crown to the Celtic Cross he won that September after a hard-fought 1-7 to 0-9 victory.

paul-bealin-and-brian-stynes-celebrate Paul Bealin and Brian Stynes won All-Ireland and Dublin SFC medals in 1995. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

When Barr kicked a booming effort from 70 yards to put the Isles a point ahead in the 57th minute, the favourites looked destined to reclaim the title they won for the first time two years earlier.

Less than 60 seconds later, Dublin minor Damien Bolger cut in diagonally from the flank, sidestepped a defender and crashed a left-footed shot into the bottom corner of Tom Quinn’s net from 14 yards.

Shortly afterwards, Ballyboden were celebrating with the trophy yet there was more drama to come.

Dublin midfielder Paul Bealin was at the centre of the controversy. Ballyboden’s last throw of the dice was to fire him into the fray in the 49th minute as a shock substitute, with Bealin setting up Liam Callan for a go-ahead score with his first touch.

A few months earlier in August, All-Ireland winning midfielder Bealin had transferred to ‘Boden from former club St Kevin’s, who he appeared for in that summer’s Dublin intermediate championship where they reached the last four.

He then lined out in at least one league game for his new club but was thought to be ineligible for the championship and didn’t feature against St Vincent’s. It was assumed that no player could play for two different clubs, albeit in different championships (senior and intermediate), in the same year.

The first Erin’s Isle heard of Bealin’s potential involvement was when the PA system included him in the Ballyboden substitutes before the game. In fact, Bealin himself only found out the previous day that he stood a chance of playing.

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Screenshot 2020-09-25 at 7.03.59 p.m. Source: Irish Newspaper Archive

As Stynes struggled with his injury in the lead-up to the game, Bealin mentioned to his Dublin midfield partner that the club should check out his eligibility for the game.

Not expecting anything to come of it, he travelled to Galway for a social trip the day before.

“I went down to Galway for the weekend but I intended to drive back this morning to watch the game,” he told reporters after the final. 

“Luckily I brought my mobile phone with me and on Saturday evening the team manager contacted me and told me I had been cleared to play.

“They said that there wasn’t any rule in the book which would stop me from playing in the match. However, I knew I wouldn’t be starting the game because the club were anxious to stick with the players who had brought them to the final.

“Thankfully I hadn’t started drinking at the time and I drove back to Dublin straight away. As far as I am concerned I was eligible to play.”

He replaced Paul Curran shortly after Stynes had departed the action midway through the second period.

“Ballyboden assured me that there was no rule in the book stating that I could’t play and anyone who knows the club knows that they do not take risks,” Bealin told the Irish Independent’s Liam Horan later in the week.

“I don’t regret what I did at all – in fact, It was absolutely brilliant to be involved, if only for ten minutes.

“I am a brutal spectator and on Sunday when Brian Synes went down injured I jumped up and ran down the line to warm up.

“You could hear the talk going on, and I think it may have been a distraction for Erin’s Isle. The Ballyboden crowd were cheering for me to go on. There had been a big hooray earlier on when my name was added to the subs. 

“When I eventually went on for Paul Curran, I think it was still a distraction to the Erin’s Isle players. I tried to draw the centre-back out of position to open up the middle and the space was important in creating our goal.”

Screenshot 2020-09-25 at 7.04.44 p.m. Source: Irish Newspaper Archive

There were question marks around who exactly informed Ballyboden that Bealin was in fact eligible to play. It was reported that several other Dublin clubs contacted the beaten finalists afterwards, encouraging them to object to the result of the game.

In the days after the game Erin’s Isle chairman Mick Seevers said that they did not want to win the title in a boardroom wrangle: “We have to think about the image of the GAA, and our own image. We don’t want to win the Dublin championship off the pitch.”

The following Friday, Erin’s Isle lodged an official objection after several days of deliberation. But during the process, it emerged that Ballyboden had discovered a loophole in the GAA’s rulebook. 

paul-bealin-1991 Bealin in action for Dublin against Meath in 1991. Source: ©INPHO

Rule 32 of the Official Guide, which covers playing eligibility, stated that: “A member shall not play for more than one Club except…a player who has commenced to play for a club in a particular competition may finish that competition and play for another Club, which he joins by declaration or transfer.”

In Bealin’s case, it appeared that his involvement was allowed because St Kevin’s had already been beaten in the Dublin IFC semi-final by St Vincent’s and therefore their season was over.

If he had transferred to Ballyboden from a club outside the county, he would have been ineligible to play but back then the Official Guide didn’t outlaw the situation where a transfer took place within a county. 

Screenshot 2020-09-25 at 7.04.53 p.m. Source: Irish Newspaper Archive

Ballyboden risked the forfeiture of the match and three-month suspensions for Bealin, the club secretary and chairman, but the Erin’s Isle appeal was unsuccessful. 

Bealin’s case captured the national headlines for 14 days as Erin’s Isle considered an appeal to the Leinster Council and a Leinster club tie against Offaly champions Edenderry loomed for Ballyboden. 

Bealin started against Edenderry, inspiring their second-half comeback in Tullamore in a dominant midfield display to lead his new club to victory. His performance that afternoon kept his name in the headlines for a little while longer.

Meanwhile, Erin’s Isle and Edenderry both lodged appeals to the Leinster Council, which were eventually rejected by a nine-man executive committee after Ballyboden were found to have breached the spirit but not the letter of the law. 

“We accept that Ballyboden exposed a loophole in the Official Guide in relation to the playing eligibility rule,” Leinster Council secretary Michael Delaney stated.

Screenshot 2020-09-25 at 7.03.34 p.m. Source: Irish Newspaper Archive

It brought an end to the drawn-out process and the county title was finally, officially Ballyboden’s. 

The rulebook was later updated to close off that particular loophole and Ballyboden’s provincial adventure was ended by Éire Óg in the semi-final. 

They’ll hope to deliver the cup for a fifth time later today in far less controversial circumstances than their first.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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