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Players' club body needs to stick around for lot longer

By Declan Bogue

It's no wonder that Chrissy McKaigue has become the latest high-profile GAA figure to publicly endorse the fledgling Club Players' Association. He joins a list of names from around the island that includes Micheál Quirke, Richie Power, Liam Griffin and, more locally, Matthew Donnelly and Aaron Kernan.

Consider McKaigue's schedule. On August 13, Slaughtneil played their first Championship game of the year.

Since then, they have played 10 Championship games in as many weeks across both codes. McKaigue has played every minute.

Their football manager, Mickey Moran, said after their win against Derrygonnelly Harps last Sunday that his squad can train for two consecutive weeks in one code for the first time this year.

While players say they would always prefer to play games rather than train, their schedule would have been even tighter only for Derry's exit to Tipperary in the All-Ireland qualifiers this year.

That's at the top end of the game. Down below is where you will find this writer, who played in the first round of the Tyrone Reserve Championship last Saturday. Yes, the first round. In the last weekend of October. Practically everybody had stopped training. Interest had drained away to nothing.

These complaints and concerns are nothing new.

There was a distinctly Ulster flavour to the usual Newstalk Saturday panel discussion I tuned into a year ago.

The Championship was at its height and there were cars from Donegal, Monaghan and Tyrone all heading in the direction of Croke Park for that evening's All-Ireland quarter-final double-header. Galway made up the numbers.

The lads in the studio took the conversation in a different direction, however.

Conor Deegan was managing a club in Dublin at the time, while Ryan McMenamin had long since stood down from his role as Tyrone's enforcer to dedicate himself to being Dromore's playmaking quarter-back.

Their frustration stemmed from the fact that they had no games to look forward to. With Dublin and Tyrone in the chase for Sam, their domestic action had almost entirely shut down until further notice, or in other words, until they were knocked out of the All-Ireland Championship.

With no games to look forward to, they barely had any to look back on either, such was the length of time since they played a meaningful fixture.

In that vacuum, club teams spend their time training away with no rhyme nor reason. Coaches are afraid to embark upon a three-week block of stamina focus, in case they suddenly have three games in a week landed in their laps.

Challenge matches are arranged with local sides and those from across a county border for Sunday mornings. Unless you are an established senior club, this will lead to serious headaches when your star players do not turn up.

And it's not just as simple as blaming the players and slating their lack of commitment to the cause.

The season kicks in and just as fast, the gearbox seizes.

When Fermanagh went on a bit of a run last year, their club players went 14 weeks without a meaningful game.

Even now in Tyrone, they are just entering into the relegation-promotion play-offs.

At this rate, the last game of the season will be played in late November. Most club sides then meet up in December and vow that their interest will stay the course in the New Year.

The entire purpose of the Club Players' Association is to be a single-issue body. Although the problems faced by clubs are multi-layered, the CPA could gain an early victory by establishing a mid-summer break for players to book a holiday.

After that, their wishlist is compromised by county board scheduling and the fortunes of their own particular county. The CPA is set to be around for the next six months. As Don Corleone reflected in The Godfather, 'Well, it wasn't enough time Michael. It wasn't enough time'.

And if the structures of the All-Ireland Championships are going to be dictated by signed, sealed and delivered TV deals for the next few years, then six months is not long enough.

Belfast Telegraph


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