No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

Declan Bonner: GAA almost ready to follow a fixtures path paved by rugby

Supporters who go to watch Glenswilly want to see Michael Murphy in action

Supporters who go to watch Glenswilly want to see Michael Murphy in action

A SHAKE of the crystal ball this week has brought a worrying sight into view for GAA clubs and their players.

The furore over club fixtures in Donegal for Easter weekend has cast another cloud over the planning of fixtures in these parts and the ability of the men at the controls to stead the fixures ship through such choppy waters.

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It isn’t today or yesterday that I mentioned in this column that the GAA was in grave danger of going down the same route as rugby has gone. I can see a time coming now where there will be a round of inter-county championship games on a Sunday, for example, and there will be a round of games the same weekend for the club players.

Clubs now must begin to prepare for only having their blue-chip players for Championship football.

The time is coming where inter-county footballers will not be available for League games.

The exact same thing happened with rugby. We saw a few weeks ago where Ireland had a 6 Nations game on a Saturday, but the provinces still had games in the Rabo Pro 12 League games the night previous.

Nowadays you don’t find players contracted with the provinces playing for Young Munster, Shannon or these clubs. That day is well and truly gone and there is a very real possibility that we will find a day when a player will be playing for Donegal and could be referred to as ‘former St Eunan’s player’ or the ‘ex-Kilcar player’.

It might sound a bit over the top, but the scenario we’ve seen this week gives rise to such fears in GAA circles.

Quite simply, the planning must be better and communication just has to improve. At the moment we have neither planning nor communication.

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The local soccer Leagues are fit to issue a fixture list at the start of the season and rigidly stick to it.

To get a game off in the Donegal Junior League, for instance, the circumstances must be serious. You do not get games called off on a whim. The fixtures planners stick to their guns; they set down the plan for the season and the adhere to the schedule.

It means that players, club members and managers can look at their list at the beginning of a campaign and make concrete plans for holidays or weekends off.

This week, many club players will have made arrangements with work around an original Saturday-Monday double round, then would have looked to change that when the Friday-Sunday schedule was put in place. Now, it is just a normal weekend with one game on the Sunday.

It is farcical that there were managers up and down the county who went to training on Tuesday evening who could not give their players a definitive answer on whether or not they’d have a game 72 hours later.

The fact is that the fixtures were made for Saturday, then they were changed to Good Friday and early this week players trained with a view to having a game on Friday.

When this happens how can you expect players to arrange their schedules around football? It is no wonder that players are siding with other sports and it is certainly no wonder that there is a feeling of frustration coursing through Donegal’s club football scene.

Club people, county management and the CCC met three times at fixtures forums over the winter months, but you wonder now what’s the point of it all? Those meetings are now redundant already. Plainly, they were a waste of time.

There is a big fear now in some clubs that there will be a raft of players heading away for the summer months. There is a general acceptance that the club championship won’t start until August and that is now where a lot of people are looking towards.

Clubs want to have their inter-county players because they are the top players. The people going to watch the games want to see the county men involved in the games. If you’re going to watch, say, Glenswilly playing St Eunan’s you’ll want to see Michael Murphy, Neil Gallagher and Rory Kavanagh; if you head to a match in Gaoth Dobhair you’ll be looking out for the McGees.

A lot of clubs are also hit with the absence of county minors. They play an Ulster League semi-final on Saturday at 12noon and can’t be expected to play a game the previous evening.

Gaoth Dobhair have nine players involved between the three senior lads and then six minors but ironically their game against St Eunan’s is the one game that is going ahead.

Another issue is that there are players on the Donegal squad who are getting no games at all, be it with club or county. Maybe there could be a ring fence put around fifteen or twenty players and let the rest play away with their clubs.

I have been in Jim McGuinness’s shoes, as the county senior team manager. It is within his rights and indeed it is his duty to do what he feels is best for his squad of players.  Training will have been tough on the players after a big week in Portugal and it would have been unfair on the county squad to play two games in three days after a week in the Algarve at a training camp.

Perhaps the original request should have asked that there be only one round of fixtures, but then you’d wonder at the CCC having scheduled two rounds of games when they knew what was coming up.

The CCC would have been well aware of the trip and given the schedule of these players it was an ill-advised move to pencil in a double round of All-County League fixtures. The strife this has caused to clubs and club players is just not acceptable.

Why, with the knowledge of the trip and the fact that Donegal are preparing for a National League final on Sunday-week, the CCC didn’t just put in a single round of fixtures remains to be seen.

The clubs are wondering what’s going on and they deserve answers.

This debate will go on, though, and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

Derry’s Lynch is man on form

DERRY looked a beaten side for a lot of the game against Mayo, especially after the lost Fergal Doherty to a sending off in the first half. They really hung in there and a virtuoso display from Mark Lynch got them over the line. He is playing superbly at the moment. He’s a real leader in their attack and a man who could be giving Jim McGuinness some sleepless nights between now and the end of May.

Derry ground out the result and the reason they were able to do that was largely down to confidence. They had a very good league campaign up to then. If that had been this time last year, when Mayo were going well, James Horan’s men would have out-ran Derry.

Brian McIver has Derry in good shape and they got a deserved result.

The real eye-catching display last Sunday was the collective one by Dublin.

Cork stopped playing after being ten points up and one stage. For Dublin to score a seventeen-point turnaround was some statement in around twenty minutes. Dublin were outstanding, but Cork didn’t do anything to hold on to what they had. They folded like a pack of cards and there worrying signs for Brian Cuthbert.

If Cuthbert was disturbed heading away from Dublin on Sunday night you’d have to wonder where James Horan’s head was after yet another defeat for his side at headquarters.

Mayo’s failings in Croke Park go away back and the same problems are still there. Forget about curses and all that nonsense: Mayo’s problems run much deeper than that. They just can’t seem to finish big games out when it counts.

They annihilated Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year and looked odds-on for an All-Ireland. Twice in a row now they’ve been beaten in finals and their old issues were evident again on Sunday against Derry.

How they begin to address these problems will be a cause for concern for Horan as he heads for another summer, his fourth as manager.

Minors worth a look

IF YOU are in the vicinity of Letterkenny on Saturday, call into O’Donnell Park and give a bit of support to the Donegal Minors who play Armagh in the Ulster Minor League semi-final at 12 noon. These boys are the future of Donegal football. They are giving their all for the green and gold. This is where senior footballers are made. We have a good bunch of lads who are all working very hard. Get out and lend them your voice for an hour.

Have you a comment to make on any of the above, or would you like Declan to raise an issue in the column? If so, you can get in touch by emailing d.bonner@donegalnews.com

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