The chairman of the Higher Education GAA committee, John Farrell, has joined the chorus of concern over the forthcoming Dr McKenna Cup campaign, stating that while he feels talk of various university teams pulling out is premature he is, nonetheless, worried that lack of negotiation over players could lead to a ‘doomsday scenario'.
In recent years, Queen's, Jordanstown and St Mary's have been frustrated in their efforts to field full-strength teams, rendering their build-up to the Sigerson Cup campaign disjointed.
On Monday, College teams submitted their panels to tournament organisers Ulster Council, and county managers are about to respond with panels of their own.
There are legitimate fears that the college panels could be decimated, with the McKenna Cup gaining added importance in the eyes of county managers as they focus on getting themselves right in the early part of the season.
Farrell feels that a lot of their problems in this regard can be solved with constructive dialogue, when he says: “What I have been advocating going back years is some kind of negotiation. Most counties and county managers sit down and talk with universities, there are others that there are no conversation, it's a fait accompli.
“What we should be trying to do is to the betterment of our players, for both managers at county level and colleges. And to put them as ‘piggy-in-the-middle' is not a situation that I can tolerate.
“There needs to be negotiation between the Ulster Council and the managers of counties and universities to find a way around it.”
Since the introduction of the college teams, the Dr McKenna Cup has grown in popularity, seen as a useful exercise that served all sides well. There can be no denying, though, that relations between some counties and college have soured, leading to threats of the colleges withdrawing.
That course of action, Farrell feels, is counter-productive to all sides.
“What would happen if universities pulled out? That puts the player in a worse position. The counties will want them to play in the McKenna Cup.
“We would then be looking for challenge matches all over the place for Sigerson, then would the players be expected to play two matches; one with the university in a challenge match and one with the county in a McKenna Cup? And I know for Jordanstown and Queen's, the exams are in the second week of January as well.”
While revealing that it took considerable negotiation to retain St Mary's in last year's Dr McKenna Cup when they lost some of their best players, Farrell warned: “There's a critical mass here, if you lose half your men, and those half are county men, your strong players, well then it doesn't make a bit of sense. But we need to step back, the lists are only out.”
Despite calls to enforce the 'first call' agreement that colleges have on players, Ulster GAA president Aogan O'Fearghail explained: “The colleges have submitted their teams and they are being reviewed at the moment by counties and then they come back to us. That's the process.”