GAA Football

Antrim footballers slam county board in identification row

Antrim footballers have hit out over a lack of support for forward Matthew Fitzpatrick during the process that led to a one-match ban that is threatening his participation against Donegal in the Ulster Championship. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Cahair O'Kane

THE Antrim senior footballers have slammed their county board, saying in a letter to clubs that they felt “let down” over a decision to provide GAA officials with the name of a player who was subsequently suspended.

A damning statement, which was sent to clubs on Sunday night and which The Irish News has obtained, is complete with the signatures of all 34 of their current senior football squad.

The issue arises from their Division Two National League clash with Armagh last month, when an off-the-ball incident caught on camera was reviewed by the Central Competitions Control Committee.

They were unable to identify the Antrim player involved and asked the county board to provide it, which it’s understood they did verbally.

The Irish News understands that the player who was named by the county board is forward Matthew Fitzpatrick, who was then handed a one-match suspension by the CCCC.

Fitzpatrick requested a hearing after which the suspension was overturned, but in their statement the Antrim players allege that he was identified by the county board in writing, after which a second suspension was issued.

That suspension threatens to rule the St John’s man out of their Ulster Championship meeting with Donegal in Ballybofey on May 21.

The senior football squad say that they don’t believe such a course of action would be taken “in any other county” and that they expect support from the county board in re-appealing Fitzpatrick’s secondary suspension.

“We, the Antrim senior county footballers, are writing to you as a collective to voice our anger and extreme frustration at the recent decision taken by members of our county board,” read the statement.

“This decision identified a member of our team for an alleged incident that occurred against Armagh on March 25, 2017.

“Croke Park officials issued an image of the alleged incident and requested the player to be named.

“County management and two members of the county board reviewed the image and it was agreed that the player could not be identified with total certainty.

“Subsequently, the player was then identified, without consulting county management. This resulted in a suspension which was later successfully appealed. It was only after the county board identified this player a second time that a second suspension was issued.

“As a result, the player in question could potentially miss the biggest game of the year against Donegal in the Ulster Championship."

The players also hit out at the fact that no serving county board official was available to attend the initial hearing with Fitzpatrick.

“We find it unacceptable that not only was this player suspended as a result of information provided by our own county board but that there was no county representative available to accompany him for his appeal," the statement continued.

"We do not believe this course of action would occur in any other county.

“Unfortunately, as a team, we cannot stand by and allow this mistreatment of our team-mate.

"We feel we need to make our concerns clear to our county board that we find it completely unacceptable that any player who dedicated months of hard work and sacrificed many parts of his life to represent his county should be treated in this way and let down by representatives who are purportedly in a position of support.

“This decision will be contested again and we would expect full support from our county board in this matter. Faithfully, Antrim senior football team.”

The game with Armagh ended with three late red cards, with Conor Murray and Stephen Beatty both sent off for Antrim, while Stephen Sheridan was sent off for Armagh.

Murray received a two-match ban for ‘striking with the head’ that will see him miss the Ulster Championship opener with Donegal, and having failed in an appeal, the Lamh Dhearg man has since opted off the panel.

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