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Joe Kernan: Clubs continue to meet needs of the masses

It is reckoned that less than five per cent of the overall playing membership of the Association is afforded the chance to gain recognition at senior county level.

This means over 95 per cent of players find themselves immersed in club activity — and with winter imminent the best of these are hoping to enjoy their day in the sun.

The Club Championships in all four provinces will swing into action shortly and we have the prospect of a particularly tantalising competition here in Ulster now that St Gall’s have thrown the gauntlet down to just about every other team following their triple coup in winning the Antrim, Ulster and All- Ireland titles last year.

Last week they retained their Antrim crown.

But if the status quo pertains in that county, new champions already have been crowned in Cavan while the reigning title-holders in Armagh, Tyrone, Derry, Donegal and Fermanagh all have bitten the dust.

And this offers the strong possibility that the Ulster series will be reinvigorated.

The status and appeal of the Club Championships overall have increased considerably in recent years, helped by a much more committed approach from teams themselves and the fact that the competition now is accorded a much higher media profile.

Not so long ago the Club Championship was regarded in some quarters as nothing more than filling an end of season void; today it is perceived as a jewel in the GAA’s fixtures calendar because of increased attendances, high-quality action and its propensity for showcasing talented young players.

But it is several former county players who will be keeping their fingers crossed this week-end when their teams compete in county semi-finals and finals in Ulster as a possible prelude to their participation in the provincial club championship.

Former Orchard county stalwarts Tony McEntee and Gareth O’Neill are the joint bosses of the Crossmaglen Rangers side that will meet St Patrick’s (Cullyhanna) in the Armagh semi-final replay on Saturday for the right to confront Dromintee in the final, while ex-Fermanagh player Peter McGinnity is hoping to inspire Roslea to success over St Patrick’s (Donagh) in the Erne county decider at Lisnaskea the following day.

When Donegal won the All-Ireland title in 1992 Manus Boyle was a dynamic figure in their attack . Now 44, on Sunday he will serve a dual role as club vice-chairman and playing substitute when Killybegs confront Naomh Conal, managed by Tyrone man Cathal Corey, in the Donegal final at Ballybofey.

On Saturday ex-Tyrone star Damien O’Hagan, who played against Boyle on several occasions, will be hoping to take his Coalisland side all the way to the O’Neill county title.

However, they must get the better of a Kildress side managed by ‘Tiffy’ Quinn in their semi-final this weekend if they are to meet Omagh, managed by ex-Derry boss Paddy Crozier, or Carrickmore, who are under the baton of Armagh’s Adrian Clarke, in the final.

It is a measure of their commitment to their clubs that these and many other former county players are prepared to give of their time, dedication and expertise to help improve the status of the unit of the Association in which they initially learned to hone their own skills and appreciate the team ethic.

Many of them have gained success at the highest level but today they are prepared to re-invest the experience they have acquired in their clubs in the hope they can inspire other players to perhaps follow in their footsteps.

While winning an All-Ireland medal at senior county level remains the greatest honour on offer within the GAA, the emotion and delight generated by success at club level with players sharing their triumph with the friends and neighbours they have grown up has a particularly strong resonance within the Association.

All clubs will complain from time to time about bad refereeing decisions, unfair fixture congestion, what is viewed as selective distribution of all Ireland final tickets and a host of other issues but at the end of the day the GAA’s greatest comfort is that the clubs will always survive to complain!

Belfast Telegraph

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