Donegal take the ultimate step as loss of players rules out Cup bid
When Donegal manager Declan Bonner indicated in advance of the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup game against Derry on Wednesday night that he might not be able to field a team in the semi-finals if they were victorious, his prediction was treated with more than a degree of scepticism.
But what was thought to be an off-the-wall prediction was translated into stark reality yesterday when Donegal pulled out of Sunday's scheduled semi-final against Monaghan at Brewster Park, Enniskillen.
It was after the Ulster Council's Competitions Control Committee met yesterday and then released a statement declaring that the semi-finals should go ahead that Donegal took their drastic step.
Donegal had initially hoped that the Ulster Council might re-schedule their semi-final for next Tuesday night to afford them a little breathing space, but the Council's edict that both games - the other tie sees Tyrone meet Down - should go ahead stunned the Donegal team manager Declan Bonner.
With a corps of players from his squad due to be involved in Sigerson Cup action this weekend, Bonner had already indicated that it might be impossible for him to assemble a side.
With Letterkenny Institute of Technology, at which several of his squad members are students, due to take part in the Sigerson Cup for the first time, this has an immediate impact on his playing resources. With other players also due to represent additional third level colleges, this compounded Bonner's selection headache.
And even then his dilemma was unrelenting. At least seven panel members, including Tony McClenaghan and Odhran McFadden-Ferry, have fallen victims to a virus infection, while three of the more experienced brigade - skipper Michael Murphy, full-back Neil McGee and utility player Leo McLoone - are only easing their way back to full fitness, while Patrick McBrearty is understood to be in the US.
In a statement, the Council said: "When drafting the fixtures schedule, the committee and counties were fully aware that the first round of the Sigerson Cup was also scheduled for this weekend of January 11-12.
"Given the tight schedule under which the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup must be completed, the view of the committee was that it was necessary to use this weekend.
"At their meeting yesterday, the committee also considered the welfare of players and took the view that from a player perspective, it would be unfair to expect players to play in the Sigerson Cup on Sunday, January 12 and line out for their counties on Tuesday, January 14 - and potentially be expected to play again for their county in the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final on Saturday, January 18 (and perhaps for their University the following day).
"The Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup is a well-established pre-season competition which gives counties the opportunity to rotate their squad and look at players in an inter-county environment.
"After careful consideration of all the factors, the committee took the view that the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup semi-finals should be played on Sunday, January 12."
While Donegal have beaten Monaghan and Derry to earn their place in the semi-finals they now find their involvement at a premature end.
"We have a lot of young lads who are all in third level education and some of them are on scholarships so they have to play with their colleges," stressed Bonner.
"And this is the bottom line. We always treat the McKenna Cup with respect, but if you can't put out a team, you can't put out a team."