Game no longer family affair: Hughes
One of Ulster’s most high-profile coaches admits that the demands imposed by inter-county football now make this a more suitable arena for single men.
Brendan Hughes managed the Pearse Og club in Armagh for three years before accepting an invitation to become No 2 to new Orchard County boss Paul Grimley.
And having helped to conduct a trawl of talent prior to the formation of the Armagh squad that will compete in next month’s Power NI Dr McKenna Cup competition, Hughes is of the opinion that the levels of self-sacrifice and dedication involved can best be met by players who do not have heavy domestic commitments.
Substance is given to his theory by the fact that in recent weeks several prominent players such as Conleith Gilligan (Derry), Padraig Joyce (Galway) and Billy Joe Padden (Armagh) have stepped aside from county football, all citing family commitments as one of the reasons for their exit.
Like most county bosses and their coaching personnel, Hughes is now hoping that Armagh will benefit from full-blown fervour from a squad that he describes as “new and exciting.”
Hughes himself, a teacher at Thornhill College in Derry, is prepared to make his own sacrifices by logging thousands of miles to attend training, meetings and matches over the course of 2013 but he positively relishes the challenge.
“A lot of the players in our panel now are young and they don’t have the family ties which maybe restrict them a little thus helping them to give Armagh greater commitment,” points out Hughes.
“Obviously that level of commitment will be stepped up and we would certainly expect a lot from them later in the year.”
Hughes clearly believes that application and concentration can prove key elements in helping to restore Armagh’s fortunes.
“We have looked at a large number of players and we feel we are happy with the squad we have assembled,” says Hughes. “It is no secret that all managers now want one hundred per cent commitment from their players and really that has to be the starting point for any hope of success to be achieved.
“We have done a wee bit of work so far and it has been typical pre-season stuff.”
Former Armagh captain Jarlath Burns has called for counties who do not release their players to third level colleges for McKenna Cup duty to be punished.
The pre-season provincial competition has lost Queen's University, who pulled out because of the anticipated unavailability of a number of their players who they felt would play for their counties.
Burns has described the situation as “shameful” and “ridiculous”.
“One county broke ranks — we all know which one. Then, like a herd of sheep, some of the other Ulster counties followed. Fair play to Antrim and Derry, at least they had a bit of sense and have stayed loyal to the format that makes the competition meaningful,” he said.
“Coercing college players to line out with their county in a competition that has no real purpose than to get lads out on to a field is a ridiculous stand point.
“It puts a wedge between these lads and their universities.”