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Donegal deserve our sympathy as senseless GAA policy hits home

Impossible schedule: Donegal boss Declan Bonner
Impossible schedule: Donegal boss Declan Bonner
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Only last month, new Derry chairman, Stephen Barker, addressed an Ulster Council meeting where he made an impassioned point about the glaringly obvious fixtures logjam ahead.

The letter from Donegal county board to the Ulster Council on Thursday signifying that they were pulling out of the Dr McKenna Cup, was the logical conclusion of Barker's foresight.

It wasn't the first time Barker had broached the subject in this forum. As a member of the Fixtures Taskforce established by Central Council, the previous August he spoke about the plans to create a Tier Two competition in football. He asked Ulster counties not to support it and spoke of his complete disbelief that a Special Congress was being held to ram it through before the Fixtures Committee compiled their findings.

With that background, last month he expressed his disappointment that the majority of Ulster counties had supported Tier Two, and that the 2020 calendar was a disaster waiting to happen with counties unable to field.

For bodies staging competitions, they cannot say they haven't been warned. This has been at breaking point for some time and those who cannot sympathise with Donegal manager Declan Bonner are living in an alternative reality.

Bonner's situation was graphically illustrated by Donegal-based journalist Chris McNulty, on how the Donegal panel is decimated this weekend by Sigerson Cup and various other reasons.

The biggest contingent belongs to Letterkenny IT. Not only do they have players Peader Morgan, Michael Lynch, Eoghan McGettigan and Michael Langan, but their gaffer on the sideline is their county captain, Michael Murphy.

After that you have DCU with Conor Morrison, Brendan McCole and new addition Jeaic MacCeallabhui, Sligo IT have Andy McClean and Paul Brennan, Stephen McMenamin is in DIT, Shaun Patton is with Garda College and Niall O'Donnell is in Maynooth.

On the injured list are Oisin Gallen, Eoghan Ban, Kieran Gillespie, Paddy McGrath, Jason McGee, Conor O'Donnell and Paul Durcan.

This week the January flu has swept across the county and has dosed up Hugh McFadden, Odhran McFadden-Ferry and Eamonn Doherty, while Paddy McBrearty is currently abroad.

With the Ulster Council unwilling to postpone the semi-finals, Donegal pulling out has further harmed the credibility of the Dr McKenna Cup, which had already shipped a blow with the universities needing to pull out this year with the new scheduling.

It hasn't just been the elite players. This goes all the way down the various layers of Gaelic games. Last weekend, Derry under-20 manager Mickey Donnelly spoke of his frustrations over player availability after drawing with Donegal in Celtic Park.

You have county senior, University, the latter stages of the club Championships, under-20s and school's action now all stacked one on top of each other. Half of the managers feel they are wasting their time due to lack of access to their players.

"We counted after the game 14 or 15 lads who are unavailable either through schools football or involvement with county seniors," said Donnelly.

"To say that you are frustrated with the value that is being placed on the competition is an understatement… that's the credibility it's been given at Central Council, it's a glorified tournament."

All this comes at a time when on these pages recently, we revealed one Ulster school that was planning to train their players on Christmas Day.

The GAA created a committee, then tied their hands behind their backs.

Until such time as proper leadership is in situ, Central Council will continue to cripple their Provincial Councils with their mind-bending policy.

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