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County bosses facing up to player exits


John Campbell

By John Campbell

The trickle of players moving away from inter-county squads in Ulster has now morphed into something approaching a flow as the provincial Championship looms ever closer.

As the build-up to the flagship competition continues, several managers have been confronted with posers as they lay their plans.

It has just been confirmed that four members of the Donegal squad - Martin O'Reilly, Martin McElhinney, Mark Anthony McGinley and Odhran MacNiallais - have now taken the exit door, while a similar number have departed from Paddy Tally's Down squad.

The loss of David McKibben, Marc Reid, Stephen McConville and Ceilum Doherty will perhaps limit Tally's options from the bench somewhat but he can take encouragement from the form shown by several players who were blooded in the recent Allianz League in which the side just missed out on promotion.

Michael McEvoy and Niall Toner have formally taken their leave of the Derry squad to go travelling and this will be a blow to manager Damian McErlain, who had helped the players to find their feet at inter-county level.

Tyrone, of course, are already resigned to being without Ronan O'Neill, Mickey O'Neill and Mark Bradley while Ryan McShane is understood to have parted company with Armagh.

Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson, meanwhile, has lost Mark Sweeney and Peter Healy.

The Dublin-based duo are unable to commit for the Championship and this will leave them shorn of a raft of experience they can ill-afford to lose.

There is no doubt that a number of players from different counties have taken stock of their own individual situations and having had only limited game time or perhaps none at all in the league, they have decided to take the exit door.

Meanwhile, the start of the Ulster Minor Football Championship tomorrow has served to focus minds on what are viewed to be increased pressures on players in the competition.

With the minor age limit having been reduced to Under-17 from last year, there is now a greater awareness of what is expected from county squads.

Antrim manager Collie McAllister is among those who believe that players need to be nurtured more carefully.

"While we have a bunch of very hard-working, honest players coming through, there are difficulties in getting them out to training week on week because of examination commitments, injuries and other elements. But these are the complexities of minor football for every county," pointed out McAllister.

"There is no doubt that the lads are willing to put the hard work in. Because Antrim is a big county geographically, some of our players would be involved in a round journey of maybe upwards on two and a half hours for training and that in itself is a big commitment."

Former Antrim player Kevin Madden, meanwhile, believes that Donegal have a good chance of winning the Ulster Senior Championship.

Madden sees Declan Bonner's side as having the right blend to retain the title they won last year, although Tyrone and Monaghan are also on his radar.

"I think Donegal have some quality forwards and the fact that Patrick McBrearty is back playing with his club Kilcar again suggests that he will be in action in the Ulster Championship which would be a bonus for Donegal," maintained Madden.

Belfast Telegraph


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