McCartan: Top players dropping out is real worry
The formation of the new Club Players' Association has understandably switched the focus onto the vast majority of playing participants whose welfare, needs and aspirations are about to be addressed in a more structured and formal manner.
Yet while the fledgling body would appear to carry the goodwill of the vast majority of Association members at all levels, James McCartan, one of Ulster's leading personalities, today highlights what he believes to be an ever-increasing problem afflicting the inter-county sector.
McCartan, a double All-Ireland winner with Down in 1991 and 1994 and the man who guided his native county into the 2010 All-Ireland decider in which they lost narrowly to Cork, insists that the drop-out rate from county squads, even on a temporary basis, is a cause for concern.
McCartan is currently managing the Queen's University side and ironically he will be coming face to face with an Armagh team on Sunday in the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup that lost several players including Caolan Rafferty, Stephen Harold, Brian Mallon, Aaron Kernan and Jamie Clarke last year.
Clarke has since returned to the squad but McCartan suggests that the demands currently being made on county players mean that more may decide to take a year out when they reach a certain stage in their careers or leave the panel altogether.
"It is noticeable that a number of players in the 25-26 age group are deciding to take time out from their county commitments. You look at players like Odhran MacNiallais in Donegal who is maybe the latest to take this step," observed McCartan.
"When people buy into county squads they initially do so with 100 per cent commitment.
"If a side is winning Championship matches it's very easy to tell boys what they must be doing for seven days of the week, but if the chances of a team achieving success are at a lower level, players will then start questioning why they are doing things in the first place."
McCartan has watched current Down boss Eamonn Burns confront selection problems, some of which have been caused by players distancing themselves from the squad, yet he believes that his native county can still glean comfort from this year's Ulster Championship.
"Even though they both have lost players, Down and Armagh will see their Championship meeting later this year as a game they can win," stated McCartan.
"I think both teams will be measured in their approach. I don't think that Down have ever gone down the route of training six or seven days a week.
"They will just be doing their normal Tuesday and Thursday training sessions and their gym work will go along with this and I would have thought that this should be ample for most counties.
"After that you start going into areas which could lead players to opt out so I don't think Down, for one, have gone down that road."
Orchard County manager Kieran McGeeney is hoping to welcome back a raft of players shortly and expects that he will have a strengthened side for the Allianz League in which his side face a stiff battle to gain promotion from Division Three.
McCartan, meanwhile, believes that there should not be a need for the new Club Players' Association but at the same time understands why it has come about.
"If everybody was doing things right and a little common sense was applied we would not need this new players' body," asserted McCartan.
"In a way it is unfortunate that there is now a need for this body and that's not in any way to cast a reflection on the work that has been done and will be done. At the same time it's worth a go, is it not?"