Tony Scullion: We must tackle sore point of injuries
A leading Ulster player today makes no secret of his New Year wish for the GAA as a whole. Long-serving Antrim defender Tony Scullion, in expressing grave concern at the "inordinate number" of injuries which county panels in particular have been experiencing of late, nonetheless remains hopeful that this worrying trend can be halted in 2015.
Scullion, preparing to embark on his 13th season with the Saffrons, is alarmed at the manner in which players' careers are disrupted and in some cases ended prematurely because of injuries.
And while acknowledging that league and championship games are of much higher intensity nowadays, he suggests that some of the more serious injuries can actually be picked up in training.
"I know it's the dream of every manager to have an injury-free season but that is seldom the case," contends Scullion. "There have been an inordinate number of injuries sustained by county players in particular and as a consequence their teams have been unable to function properly.
"It's not only matches that are fiercely intensive - training sessions are conducted against a very committed backdrop.
"Managers seek to have cover for every position but it is a fact of life that there are key players in every side and if they are not available for one reason or another then the side can suffer."
Scullion's stark assessment of the situation comes hot on the heels of Derry manager Brian McIver's claim that knocks sustained in a congested club fixtures programme robbed him of seven players for last year's shock All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Longford and Tyrone manager Mickey Harte's fears that Conor Clarke has returned to action too soon at club level following serious injury.
Clarke's appearance as a substitute for Omagh St Enda's in the Ulster club final defeat to Slaughtneil clearly took Harte by surprise to the extent that he now predicts the player may not be seen in the county colours until late March.
"When you look back at 2014, you see that Armagh only began to hit form after they got their injured players back at the start of the championship while Kerry went on to win the All-Ireland primarily because of the influence of David Moran at midfield after he regained his best form following a lengthy absence because of injury," points out Scullion.
New Down boss Jim McCorry is keeping his fingers crossed that the injury jinx that blighted the tenure of his predecessor James McCartan will give his side a wide berth while Donegal manager Rory Gallagher already acknowledges that his team will need to be at full strength to mount a successful defence of their Ulster title.
Scullion makes the point that while his own county Antrim are no strangers to injuries, the possible absence of any experienced campaigners could scupper their bid to make an impact in the McKenna Cup and then press for promotion from Division Three.
"Make no mistake about it, the matches coming up for us will be played with great intensity," says Scullion.
"I often wonder how much the human body is expected to take. Teams that are lucky enough to avoid injuries have a real chance of making headway but those missing key players can very easily come a cropper."
ARMAGH manager Kieran McGeeney has named his squad for Sunday's opening Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup tie against Tyrone but no Crossmaglen Rangers players are included.
It had been expected Jamie Clarke, James Morgan and Tony Kernan would feature.
ARMAGH SQUAD: N Geoghegan (Middetown), B Donaghy (Clonmore), M Shields (Whitecross), C McKeever (Parnells), E McArdle (St Patrick's), S Campbell (Clan na Gael), S Forker (Maghery),C Rafferty (Granemore), E McVerry (Mullaghbawn), S Kelly (Silverbridge), N McConville (St Peter's), K Dyas (Dromintee), S Sheridan (Forkhil), F Moriarty (Wolfe Tones), M Murray (St Patrick's), A Findon (St Peter's), O Mac Iomhair (Annaghmore), F O'Neill (St Paul's), M McKenna (Grange), M McConville (Harps), J Donnelly (Killeavy), D McKenna (Harps), S Connell (St Patrick's), P Courtney (St Jude's), G McParland (Ballymacnab), T Harney (Pearse Og)