Donegal’s McKenna Cup run ended on Wednesday week last. However, it was a worthy series of matches for the squad where different players, both established and new, got their chance to sharpen up and impress respectively.
Tyrone and Cavan will battle it out this Saturday night in the final. The attendances at these McKenna Cup games have been surprisingly large. Whether it was a hangover of cabin fever from Christmas or just an increase in interest, it is an encouraging development.
With the National football league ready to kick off the following weekend it is likely that there will be huge interest in Donegal’s progress given the expectation surrounding the 2012 All-Ireland champions. It is early days yet in respect of the more serious championship ahead of us in the summer. Still, the league will form a good indicator as to the serious championship contenders will be then. In Ulster the two big hitters will still be Donegal and Tyrone.
Although Roscommon defeated Mayo last Sunday in the FBD League, the latter will still come out of Connacht. Cork beat Kerry in the McGrath Cup final last weekend and it is difficult to forecast which team will succeed in Munster though these two teams will be in the shake up come August. Dublin is still the outstanding team in Leinster and will be for some time to come. Indeed, Dublin will be the outstanding favourites to retain the All-Ireland title in September.
If everything pans out the way we hope, Donegal should meet the metropolitans in the All-Ireland semi-final. Doesn’t that possibility whet the appetite? In the meantime, Donegal’s focus is on the forthcoming National League where promotion is a must. We start off with two difficult away games, Laois and Galway. Donegal played Laois last year in the All-Ireland qualifiers in Carrick on Shannon. That day Donegal didn’t exactly set the world alight but they did win after an unspectacular display.
Laois have home advantage this time though and Donegal can expect a tough challenge from the Leinster men. A victory for us will set us up nicely for our game against Galway in Salthill the following Sunday. Back in the day, the National League started in November with a break at Christmas and resumed again in the New Year. Games took place mostly every second weekend. Now the matches are played on consecutive Sundays with little time for recuperation.
It is difficult to determine which system suits players best. I know that injuries incurred back then were far fewer than what we experience nowadays. Training systems and intensity have changed considerably though. There was far more emphasis on technical ability in the eighties and nineties. Fitness and endurance are crucial fundamentals for intercounty footballers in the modern game. Today’s players give much more time to their game and obviously sacrifices made have increased too.
Player burn-out was never a consideration in my playing days but, it a major issue in current times. We must not forget that our players still have day jobs. It is only their attitude to the game that remains professional. If the current trend continues it is conceivable that playing careers will become shorter. There is a balance to maintain which seems uncontrollable for the GAA.
Inter county teams year on year are increasing standards and asking more and more of their players and indeed management alike. The pressure to succeed is unrelenting. As spectators, they only see what’s in front of them on match day. It is difficult to appreciate the commitment, endeavour and sacrifice made by all concerned in preparation for games.
I’m glad I played back in the day and not now. I only thought that I made sacrifices. It was more like a social night out when I look back. So when you pay your money into a game spare a thought for those inter county footballers entertaining you. I endured plenty of garbage hurled in my direction from some unforgiving supporters. Most though were appreciative of my efforts and those of my colleagues. Today’s players put much more into their game than we ever did.
January is always a dull month when many people find life difficult. Thank God for football. If you are looking for inside information, then you will not get it here suffice to say that things are shaping up nicely. Roll on Feb 2nd!