IF you are a club player in Donegal, you probably have had the players meeting at this stage.
The AGM has come and gone and the management team are in place. Their first objective is to sit down with the players and set out their stall.
It’s a chance to consign last year to the dustbin, make promises and commitments for the year ahead and of course, set the ultimate goal of championship glory.
These meetings have been going on for the last 15 or 20 years and it doesn’t matter, if you are a Division 1 player or ply your trade in the fourth tier, there is a an unwritten rule that you have to sit in a cold clubhouse or community hall and listen to the plans for the season.
The main difference between now and 15 years ago, is the number of people sitting at the top table. Now, we have the manager, his/her selectors, the trainer, the strength and conditioning coach, the nutritionist and maybe a sports psychologist for good measure.
Back in the day, the manager was a one-man band and he incorporated all those roles under the umbrella of bainisteoir.
“We’re as good as any team in the county”, “We only did it half-arsed last year”, “This could be our year boys” are all commonly heard sentences at these get-togethers.
The S&C programmes will be dished out and you better believe there’s going to be some hard running done.
The numbers are good at the start. Everyone is putting the effort in, you can see progress being made, and the first couple of challenge games go well.
However, the first few league games are the real acid test. Pick up a few early victories and you’re on to a winner, but start slowly, and the bubble will soon burst.
Some lads will be disappointed to be manning the bench, maybe the cute veteran who decided to skip pre-season, has been called in to provide more steel.
Before you know it, the numbers at training start to drift. The intensity drops, the results are poor. Nothing will do but another players meeting to sort this mess out.
Of course, the further you go into the summer, the more problems you encounter.
The college boys have exams and you can’t stand in the way of their education. The manager gives a player a pass for the weekend, only to hear on the grapevine that he has been splattered all over Facebook at some 21st party down the country.
Some fella will have inevitably dropped to one knee and proposed to his partner. That’s a double-whammy for any manager. You know that not only will you lose the players for a week for the wedding, you’ll also have to contend with half the panel heading away on a stag weekend as well.
Others will have booked holidays and few weeks will pass without somebody going missing, while the summer festivals can turn heads as well.
Eventually, that all settles down and you get ready for the business end of the year. Sure, the league’s not going well, but it’s all about championship anyway.
The numbers are back up at training, the boys have the bit between their teeth again and are ready for war.
You might get a big win and there will be a fair buzz down the local pub after the match. The club’s version of Pat Spillane and Joe Brolly will be sitting on the high stools, patting you on the back and toasting the triumph.
But the championship comes to a premature end, no doubt due to a rather dubious referring decision.
The same men who were praising you last week, are now leading the post-mortem. Stand clear.
Training continues as there are still a couple of league games left, but the heart has gone out of the whole thing at this stage. Only seven or eight players show up, while the nutritionist and sports psychologist are nowhere to be seen now.
Some clubs will end the year on a high and land the coveted prize. They have their medals, their Monday club sessions, and their dinner dances. However, for the vast majority of clubs, the season peters out and ends on a downer.
You get two months to reassess the situation and where your club career is heading, before word filters through that the players meeting has been called. It will be different this year.
Donegal concluded their McKenna Cup campaign with a win over Fermanagh last week, but it was a strange game in Ballyshannon.
The first half was a real polished display from Donegal. They kicked ten points and should have added two or three goals to that tally.
Daniel McLaughlin kicked two points, while Eoin McHugh and Hugh McFadden were also playing well.
In the middle third, Neil Gallagher, Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney were dominant and Fermanagh looked to be one of the poorest inter-county teams I have ever seen it that opening 35 minutes.
Maybe Donegal’s legs caved, or Fermanagh just improved drastically, but it was a completely different story in the second half.
Ruairi Corrigan and Eoin Donnelly came on and made a big difference, while impressive wing-back Marty O’Brien scored a goal.
Donegal were really under pressure in the second half and Rory Gallagher won’t have been pleased with how things played out.
Fermanagh kicked 10 wides in the second half, dropped four balls into Paul Durcan’s hands and scored 2-3. In contrast, Donegal kicked two points and two wides in the same period.
However, there will be positives to take from the game for Rory. Winning is a good habit, Michael Murphy got some game-time, while some players have really put their hands up to be in contention of action in the league.
Hugh McFadden, Daniel McLaughlin, Eoin McHugh and Ciaran McGinley have done well, while Martin O’Reilly has looked lively over the last few weeks.
They will all be hoping to make an impact in the league and show that they have what it takes to play in the big championship games come the summer.
It was very interesting this week, to see that Cavan’s Gearoid McKiernan has been hit with a two-game suspension for allegedly giving sectarian abuse to a Monaghan player during their recent McKenna Cup game.
It is believed that one of the officials heard the remark and it was included in the referee’s report of the game.
The GAA is an inclusive association and caters for a diverse range of people. Unfortunately, sledging is part and parcel of the game, but racist or sectarian comments simply cannot be tolerated and must be acted upon.
Well done to the Ulster Council and the GAA for making a stand on the matter and hopefully this punishment will help to kick sectarianism out of our games.