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Duignan set to battle under fire chairman Byrne for top role in Offaly

Two-time All-Ireland winner Michael Duignan is contesting the position at next month’s county convention.

RTÉ pundit Michael Duignan.
RTÉ pundit Michael Duignan.
Image: RTÉ

MICHAEL DUIGNAN WILL go up against incumbent Tommy Byrne for the role of Offaly GAA chairman at the county convention on 10 December.

The two-time All-Ireland winner will go head-to-head with the long-serving Byrne, who was elected for his second stint as chairman in 2016. He previously served as chairman in 2003 and 2004, also spending time as assistant secretary and secretary. 

Durrow clubman Duignan and Gracefield’s Byrne are the only two names nominated for the top job in Offaly. 

Duignan was part of a representative group that met in Tullamore a couple of months ago to discuss their concerns over the direction of Offaly GAA and determine if there was an ”appetite for change” in the county.

Also part of that group was former Offaly hurler and manager Brian Whelehan, ex-county footballer Stephen Darby, Clara natives Brian Gavin and Dervill Dolan, plus Edenderry’s Colm Cummins.

They met with Byrne and indicated that a change of leadership was required, a notion he shot down. 

“They asked me to stand down and I told them I wouldn’t,” Byrne told the Tullamore Tribune last month. ”I said if I stood aside when approached by a group like that, I would be a disgrace to myself and the position I hold.”

Cummins will contest for vice-chairman, while Dolan is vying for the treasurer and vice-treasurer positions. Four-time All-Ireland final referee Gavin will challenge to become one of Offaly’s two Leinster Council representatives. 

Byrne’s involvement with the Offaly county board has been marred by a number of controversies while the county’s fortunes in both codes have suffered a worrying decline during his reign.

During his first stint as chairman he saw off two football managers in quick succession – Paul O’Kelly and Gerry Fahy. 

Fahy’s resigned due to a lack of support from the board that prompted a players’ strike in protest at his treatment, which was supported by the county’s hurlers. The late Eugene McGee, who led the Faithful to All-Ireland glory in 1982, was required to step in as the mediator to resolve the issue.

In 2017, a year after Byrne returned to the helm, the Offaly Hurling Review/Implementation Committee – featuring former county hurlers Liam Hogan and Brian Carroll – stepped down en masse in “total frustration” at the board’s lack of support and their slowness to implement key suggestions.

liam-hogan Hogan managed Ballyboden St Enda's to five Dublin SHC titles. Source: Cathal Noonan

Hogan described the state of Offaly hurling as “absolutely deplorable – from top to bottom” and said Byrne was ”a disaster” to deal with. Two years later, Offaly find themselves operating in hurling’s third tier.

The county board released a statement calling for the group members to reconsider their decisions and former Taoiseach Brian Cowen was called in as the mediator, but no common ground could be reached.

In 2018, Stephen Wallace was removed as manager following a shock Leinster SFC defeat to Wicklow.

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Wallace watched the game from the stands having been hit with an eight-week suspension the previous month for his involvement in a melee during a club game in his native Kerry.

The board initially stood by Wallace when he was slapped with the ban but following days of unrest after the Wicklow defeat, he was removed from his position. 

Wallace said the players issued a statement to the county board calling for him to be retained. ”We’ve made our decision and that decision is final,” said Byrne during an appearance on Off The Ball.

He also claimed he was waiting for the result of Wallace’s appeal before making the decision to relieve him of his duties. When asked if Wallace would have been removed had the Faithful beaten Wicklow, Byrne responded: “I can’t say.”

stephen-wallace Wallace pictured in the O'Moore Park stand during Offaly's loss to Wicklow in 2018. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Last May, two-time All-Star and double All-Ireland winner Kevin Martin was removed from his position as manager after defeats to Laois and Westmeath at the start of the Joe McDonagh Cup campaign.

“Survival in the Joe McDonagh Cup competition in 2019 is essential for the long-term development of hurling in the county,” an Offaly GAA statement said.

Offaly legend Joachim Kelly took charge on an interim basis and the Faithful lost their remaining two games to Antrim and Kerry, suffering relegation to the Christy Ring Cup.

Following the controversy over Martin’s treatment, Byrne again came under fire to step down from his position. In response, he welcomed challengers for the role of chairman.

“Everyone is entitled to be nominated for this position,” he said. “If they’re not happy with what I’m doing, it’s open to them for a club to nominate them and let them run against me.”

Now Byrne has a challenger in the form of Duignan, a popular figure around the county who has been heavily involved in underage coaching with the successful Ballinamere/Durrow sides.

When the nominations for the board positions were confirmed, Duignan’s former team-mate Daithi Regan tweeted: “A great opportunity for dynamic new leadership in our county, critical convention which will hopefully lead our county to solidity, innovation, investment from business community, pathway for our youth and people to lead us with a proven acumen in business and strategy.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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