SHARP divisions have emerged between Offaly GAA chairman Tommy Byrne and challenger, Michael Duignan over claims that the Gracefield man was asked to “stand down” at a meeting between him and a group seeking a “new vision and direction” for the association in the county.
In wide ranging and comprehensive interviews with the Tribune this week, Tommy Byrne has insisted that he was asked to stand down by the group while claiming that he was also asked would he step aside after one more year in the role and was offered other jobs on the Offaly GAA Management Committee.
Michael Duignan stated that they did not ask the chairman to step down, had no remit to and wouldn't take this course of action.
It is proving to be a hot issue in a contest that has galvanised the GAA community in Offaly. Tommy Byrne, in his third year of this, his second stint as chairman, is being challenged by Michael Duignan (formerly St Rynagh's and now Durrow), a former Offaly hurler and footballer who won All-Ireland senior hurling medals in 1994 and 1998. The challenge arose out of a meeting in Tullamore a few weeks ago that was attended by former players of both codes, club activists and supporters.
As a result of that meeting, Michael Duignan decided to challenge for the chair at Convention on December 10 while Edenderry's Colm Cummins, Clara's Dervill Dolan and Brian Gavin are challenging for vice chairman, treasurer and Leinster Council delegate, respectively – they have confirmed that they will not be standing if Michael Duignan is not successful.
At the last County Board meeting, Tommy Byrne was questioned by Colm Cummins about the matter and while he admitted that he was not asked to step down at one meeting, he was adamant that he had been asked on three different occasions.
Heavy canvassing has been ongoing in recent weeks with the candidates meeting clubs and speaking with officers as the contest threatens to become divisive and acrimonious. They addressed a lot of subjects in this week's interviews, which are published inside, and both candidates were keen to put their different takes on meetings between them on the record – meetings held before Duignan and company were formally nominated.
Tommy Byrne stated last week: “I don't want it to be a big deal but we had a meeting with three of those people one morning and they outlined a new direction and a change of leadership. I took that to mean that in essence you want me to step down. No one said anything different and I was offered other jobs because they wanted my experience. Definitely anyone that knows me will know I am not going around saying something that didn't happen.”
Michael Duignan has insisted that they didn't ask the chairman to step down.
“It was very clear to us that he wasn't asked to step down and we didn't have the remit in any capacity to ask a chairman of the County Board to step down. What we weren't sure of was what their position was because you hear different things about people maybe not running in it and not going forward and all that.
Michael Duignan added: “Out of courtesy from our meeting in the Central Hotel there was people at that saying we should just go forward and drive on and go for the positions but I would have felt very strong that we should go out of respect for the position and chat and see what was their own intentions and the management's intentions so we met them and we told them that there was a strong appetite for change out there. That people were disappointed where we are and disillusioned in terms of where we are as a county and that we were looking to drive this thing on and then Tommy came back and said he was going to run. That was it, then we went on after that and as I said I think that was clarified at the County Board meeting so if Tommy is saying something different now he's contradicting himself because it's on the record that he explained that and we are very clear that we have our notes from the meeting and he was never asked to step down.”
Tommy Byrne elabourated: “I have been in a lot of controversies at times but no one has come back and said I was lying because I don't, because it makes life easy. No matter how hard a thing is, it is what it is. It is too complicated to lie and I always thought that I couldn't really care less about what hassle was caused but when I go home, I know what I was saying and it is the truth. I always had a policy that if someone asked me a question that I couldn't answer honestly, I would say I can't answer that now. I won't tell them a lie. On three different occasions, this came up in different guises but I was even offered other people's jobs on the Management Committee and if that is not wanting you out of the job you are in. . . .
“One day at a meeting, I was asked would I commit to stepping down in a year and I refused that because I am never going to be a lame duck. I am either going to be chairman or not and that happened here. We did try to avoid this situation because this could potentially become a divisive issue. I am not sure whether it will or not but it could and that would not be good for anything in the county. Hopefully it doesn't but I was asked would I consider stepping aside after a year. It was obvious that there was a vacancy or two for people.”
Michael Duignan declared: “I wouldn't ask him to step down, you couldn't ask him to step down actually. We were only exploring our options. We had made no decision at that stage, we were only going in to explore and maybe just to flesh it out and see and maybe get a little bit more understanding in terms of where the County Board were at. Tommy had done three years but every year it is up for discussion and he mightn't even have been running.
“He could well have said I am not going. We were exploring it. We were bringing what we feel is the feeling of the county really, after a lot of discussion with a lot of people that would have Offaly GAA, hurling and football close to their hearts, and putting them on the table really. To formally let the County Board that this is out there and I think they know anyway. All you have to do is look at where we are, look at our results and performances.
“We want to focus everything we are doing in the future on the performance of Offaly teams while also making sure that our operations are properly maintained and run; that the goverance of our county is properly run. We will look at every aspect of Offaly GAA but the bottom line is we want to improve our performances on the field.”
See pages 68 to 71, 64 and 63 for interviews with both men.