McDonnell is outraged by bans given to Armagh kids
Armagh Under-20s football boss Peter McDonnell has launched a furious verbal blast at Ulster GAA chiefs following the serving of proposed bans on 10 of his young players.
The unprecedented action against his team came after the Ulster Council's Competitions Control Committee had carried out an investigation into the melee that marred extra-time in the Armagh v Tyrone Under-20s Ulster Championship semi-final a week ago.
In addition to the heavy personal penalties which Armagh incurred, seven Tyrone players have been served with bans, while each county has been fined €3,000.
The punishments served on Armagh come just a week before they are due to meet Derry in the inaugural Ulster Under-20s final which will be played as a curtain-raiser to next Sunday's senior provincial final between Donegal and Fermanagh.
Manager McDonnell potentially finds himself shorn of a raft of talent as he prepares to face a Derry side that had already slipped into the role of favourites for the title following their semi-final win over highly-fancied Donegal.
McDonnell, vastly experienced in club and county team management, was clearly shell-shocked when he spoke shortly after having been made aware of the Competitions Control Committee's decision.
"This is devastating," fumed the normally mild-mannered McDonnell.
"I'll tell you what it does - it just goes back to the Under-20s players being used as guinea pigs. Would this happen at senior inter-county level? No, they would just hone in on a couple of people at that level and make an example of them."
Armagh's extra-time win over Tyrone, 2-22 to 0-24, had triggered a wave of optimism within the county in relation to the inaugural final at this level, but now that McDonnell will be forced to field a considerably weakened side, unless the county board is successful in invoking the appeals process, his team have suddenly been cast not so much in the role of underdogs as also-rans.
"The Under-20s final will be nothing more than a cosmetic exercise," insists McDonnell.
"The Competitions Control Committee has succeeded in demeaning it to nothing more than this. It will be no more than a warm-up exercise for Derry to move to the next level."
The Derry Under-20s side contains a number of outstanding players who have come up through the minor ranks over the course of the past three years while current senior county boss Damien McErlain was in charge of operations.
"To be playing in an Ulster final is a great bonus for these Armagh lads but look at how many of them will not now have this privilege," points out McDonnell.
"I know that the melee took place and I'm certainly not condoning it in any shape or form. But it all stemmed from one rash incident on the part of a Tyrone player and it was a tinderbox.
"Armagh will be represented in the final all the same and the team will do everything in its power to win this first Ulster Under-20s final.
"Obviously we would just love to have our full team on duty but it does not look as if this will be possible."
It is understood that the management committee of the Armagh county board will meet to discuss the situation over the weekend.
Some present and former Armagh players have already condemned what they feel are, to quote Crossmaglen Rangers and Orchard legend Oisin McConville, "draconian measures".
"It does not make sense to me," raps an irate McConville.
"Maybe the Competitions Control Committee is trying to send out a message but let's wait and see how consistent they and their sister bodies are in future.
"That's the real test they have set for themselves and I am certainly not the only one who is thinking along these lines.
"These are draconian measures in my view."