- Donegal manager Jim McGuinness.
FROM CHRIS MCNULTY IN BALLYBOFEY
THE first round, first leg games in the Donegal senior football championship have been deferred until the weekend of August 12th – after Tir Chonaill manager Jim McGuinness issued an impassioned plea to tonight’s meeting of the county committee.
Addressing the monthly meeting at Jackson’s Hotel, Ballybofey, the Donegal boss urged the Competitions Controls Committee not to ‘play Russian roulette’ ahead of the Ulster final with several of his key players struggling with hamstring injuries.
The manager revealed that Sean MacCumhaills starlet Martin O’Reilly is already in danger of missing the July 22nd clash with Down due to a hamstring tear picked up playing for his club in a League game yesterday.
Neil McGee was forced off after three minutes of Saturday’s semi-final win over Tyrone, while team captain Michael Murphy, Paddy McGrath and Ryan Bradley all tweaked their hamstrings in the win.
“We can’t afford to lose any more players. I feel that there is an opportunity for us to go back-to-back for the first time in the county’s history,” McGuinness told the meeting.
“It is a great opportunity for Donegal to put a flag down and hopefully the CCC will look favourably at our request.
“If we didn’t have so many injuries we would be happy for the games to proceed this weekend, but with these injuries it’ll be like Russian roulette now and the fingers will be crossed on Saturday and Sunday.
“These are our top players – and it would put them in a serious position.”
McGuinness cited last year when Leo McLoone sustained a nasty injury in a melee following Naomh Conaill’s game against Glenswilly while Rory Kavanagh, he said, took a knock from which he never really recovered.
The manager came to the meeting armed with an alternative proposal – with his blessing given to the games going ahead the week after a potential All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park. It was interesting that McGuinness’s proposal deals with Donegal reaching the All-Ireland final – and he spoke passionately about the ‘welfare’ of his players.
He said: “We would be happy for them to play club championship the week after a possible All-Ireland quarter-final.
“The problem now is the injuries and the reality is that they would be forced to play and there’d be nothing I could do about that.
“It’s a very dangerous situation and I hope common sense will prevail.
“If we were to lose Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Ryan Bradley or Paddy McGrath, our chances of retaining the Ulster championship would diminish heavily and Down’s chances of winning would increase. That is the reality here.
“The crisis is now. The players are injured now and the danger is now. These are our key players and if they’re injured there won’t be an All-Ireland quarter-final or semi-final. The players don’t want the games this weekend. If there is a will there is a way.”
CCC Chairman Charlie Cannon cautioned that the fixtures chiefs in the county had worked ‘very hard’ on planning the schedule and said that there were only 16 free Sundays between now and the end of October with just two possibilities for the first round, first legs – this weekend or the August 11th/12th proposed by McGuinness.
“A number of clubs have already made contact to say that they want to play club championship this weekend,” Mr Cannon said.
McGuinness added: “Nobody has worked harder then these players – they have been through hell and high water. We have to put our best foot forward for the welfare of the players because this is a unique opportunity for them.
“There is a fear inside me that they would come back damaged.”
There was an interesting debate on the issue among delegates with Dungloe chairman Enda Bonner stating that his club was willing to play their Championship tie against Cloughaneely this weekend, even minus county panellist Adrian Hanlon.
Davy McLaughlin (Moville), former county chairman Sean Kelly (St Naul’s), as well as former county players Paul Carr (St Eunan’s) and Hughie McClafferty (Downings) both spoke in favour of McGuinness’s request, while support also came from Donegal Executive members Grace Boyle and Michael McMenamin.
After a 50-minute discussion on the topic, the members of the CCC broke to deliberate on the matter and, after a 25-minute hearing, came back to deliver the news that the first round of the senior championship and the preliminary rounds of the Intermediate Championship had been deferred to the weekend of August 11th/12th.
However, the Junior A and Junior B ties will go ahead as scheduled this weekend, with the CCC to schedule League games for the senior and intermediate clubs.