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Donal O'Hare: Croke Park need to start listening and paying players

 

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Donal O'Hare celebrates after helping Down beat Tipperary by three points in the All-Ireland round one qualifiers last year.

Donal O'Hare celebrates after helping Down beat Tipperary by three points in the All-Ireland round one qualifiers last year.

�INPHO/Philip Magowan

Donal O'Hare celebrates after helping Down beat Tipperary by three points in the All-Ireland round one qualifiers last year.

With Gaelic games in lockdown indefinitely due to the deadly coronavirus, Sunday Life Sport has introduced a series with Armagh’s All-Ireland winner and Crossmaglen legend Oisin McConville, chatting with 11 of the biggest names in the sport.

This week, Oisin talks GAA with his cousin, Down’s top talent Donal O'Hare.

Donal may only be 28 years old, but it feels like he has been carrying the Down senior footballers on his back for the best part of a decade now. Since the retirement of the great Benny Coulter, it seems the spotlight has landed firmly and squarely on his shoulders. While they may be blood relations, Donal doesn’t allow Oisin to run Down into the ground and is forthright in his defence of his beloved county.

Oisin: How has this crisis affected your life?

Donal: I'm a teacher in St Mark's in Warrenpoint. It's very handy as it's 10 minutes from the house. It's my first year out teaching, so it's frustrating not being able to continue as I was really enjoying it. I miss the social interaction and engagement with staff and pupils. Like most teachers, I'm very reliant on technology for contacting parents and kids- that's now done through Google classroom. It's great, but it's not the same as the face-to-face contact with your pupils.

Oisin: Are you a good trainer? What are your good and bad habits?

Donal: I'm on the way back from injury, so I'm mainly doing rehab at the moment. The only good thing about the crisis is that I won't end up missing games that I would have otherwise. I've no bad habits when it comes to training. My good habits are keeping on top of my nutrition and keeping motivated to train hard.

Oisin: How important is communication with teammates in saying focused?

Donal: Again, that is something I miss - getting together for training sessions and seeing the lads. Darren O'Hagan is the captain and I'm the vice-captain, so we are currently setting challenges each week. We do a drill called the Bronco - basically, it's end line to 20 metre line, then 40, then 60. It's a tough drill and you're trying to beat 4 minutes and 50 seconds. Little things like that keep the banter and craic going.

Oisin: How important have the Down management team been during this time?

Donal: They've been very important. They have been brilliant on the mental side of things. Paddy Tally is very hands-on when it comes to training, so I'd say he would be as frustrated as anyone with this lay-off. They have very much listened to players and, along with a lot of coordination drills, have introduced some meditation techniques, which the players had requested.

Oisin: Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why?

Donal: Simple: my family. My family have a massive tradition in GAA, with my mum coming from Crossmaglen and my granddad, Gene Morgan, having played for Armagh in the 1953 All-Ireland Final. I was lucky because, as far back as I remember, my brothers took me to the Burren pitch and I loved it. My brother Tony takes credit for teaching me everything I know. Tony always talked a great game!

Oisin: Are the demands of club and county football greater than ever?

Donal: County football has been like that for some time and now it has transferred to the club. Clubs are out five and six days a week. To be honest, I think that's why so many lads are walking away from the game. The level of self-analysis and analysis of the opposition has got to crazy levels and the time commitment is massive.

Oisin: How do you strike a balance?

Donal: I'm lucky work-wise because my work is so close, so I get home before training and prepare properly. If I want to chill out I'll watch Netflix or do a yoga session, or the odd time we get a chance to go for a few beers.

Oisin: How frustrating can it be playing in a Down squad that often fails to deliver?

Donal: I think the question is unfair.

Oisin: Why?

Donal: If you're looking at purely results and medals, it could definitely be seen as frustrating, considering the work that's going in. This is my ninth year in the Down squad and I've been beaten in two Ulster Finals and one Division Two League Final, so I've got no medals, but I've had so many great experiences and memories. If you're looking for reasons why we haven't achieved as much as we would have liked, then you can look at the turnover of players. The big teams have a bank of 10 to 12 players that are playing most games year in, year out. We lose players too frequently. We went into this year's league having lost a goalkeeper and four defenders from the Ulster Final in 2017. I don't know too many teams that could take that amount of change.

Oisin: Have you ever felt like turning your back on football and doing something else?

Donal: It does cross your mind in the tough times. I had ankle surgery three years ago. That was hugely frustrating, that was a time when mentally you can struggle. I'm enjoying it right now. If that enjoyment goes, that's when I'll go.

Oisin: What players in the game do you admire at the moment?

Donal: Diarmuid Connolly is someone I would love to have played with. He's two-footed and incredibly talented. David Clifford is another obvious choice. He was under pressure coming out of the minor scene, but he has excelled. People felt the captaincy could weigh heavily on him, but he's got even better. It's actually incredible what he is achieving at his age and with so much expectation.

Oisin: Anything you would like to see introduced or removed in the game?

Donal: No, I think the game needs to be left alone now.

Oisin: Anything you would like to see introduced or removed in the GAA?

Donal: Yes, players deserve to be paid. The county scene is awash with players doing well for themselves with boot and car deals, but unfortunately that doesn't filter down to the weaker counties.

Oisin: Has Croke Park too much control?

Donal: Not sure about control, but they certainly aren't listening to players. The players voted on the introduction of the Tier Two structure. It was voted against by the players and still it was voted in. If we are in Tier Two, we will miss out on big games. We had 16,000 supporters in Newry for the Mayo game last year. That probably won't happen in Tier Two. I think the positive of the second tier is if you look at Down hurlers winning the Christy Ring a few times and how much that means to them, maybe this competition is also a more realistic opportunity for the weaker counties to win silverware. But we are in a great position for promotion with two games left in the League, so we certainly don't intend to be in that position.


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