Before we go into what the year ahead might hold for Donegal the news that Rory Kavanagh called time on his inter county career, while not a total shock, was still somewhat of a surprise considering his performances in last year’s county championship success with his club St Eunan’s.
I have no doubt Rory Gallagher would have hoped he would have given it another year. Rory has been one of those players where much of his work goes unnoticed by many followers, but ask any player or manager and his name would have been one of the first on the team sheet.
His ability to cover the ground from helping out his defence to maybe setting up or taking a score of his own was vital to all the teams he played with.
His partnership with Neil Gallagher was probably one of the best ever seen in the green and gold of Donegal. He will be sorely missed and not easily replaced.
If you were to ask me of my abiding memory of him playing for Donegal it wouldn’t be his brilliant solo runs or his many spectacular goals and points, it was his unrelenting appetite to work for the team without ever thinking of his own performance; an exceptional talent who deserved all the success that came his way.
Donegal start there National League with a home game against Derry. It’s hard to know what to expect from the Oak Leaf county; they contested last year’s league final but were heavily defeated by Dublin. They went into the championship with thoughts of upsetting Donegal but were never up to the pace of the game and while Donegal had only three points to spare at the end the result was never in doubt.
While Donegal went on to further success in the Ulster championship, Derry were beaten at home by Longford in the qualifiers, a result that would not have been expected.
In the first game of the McKenna Cup they proved too strong for a very young untested Donegal team but struggled against Fermanagh and Queen’s University. However, I would expect Rory Gallagher to put out as strong a side as he can this time out. He and the rest of his management team will want to get off to a good start with a view to making sure of Division One status for next year and anything after that would be a added bonus.
While the league offers managers the opportunity to try out new players or players in different positions, they can use the games to try out different systems, get all aspects of their game fine tuned for the championship.
With the McKenna Cup over for another year I have no doubt the debate on whether competitions like the McKenna Cup, the O’Byrne Cup in Leinster, the McGrath Cup in Munster and the FBD league in Connacht are worthy of being kept on the calendar.
Of course there will be plenty to argue whether they should or should not be kept but the simple fact is that the National League and the championship takes up too much time through the year that club players are being asked to play at the tail end of the year and in the case of the Donegal championship last year, week to week.
While lip service has been given to this problem since the introduction of the Qualifiers nothing has been done. A report a couple a weeks ago suggested we pull forward the All-Ireland finals by a week and that this may alleviate the problem in some way; it would be like putting a plaster on a broken leg.
The fact is simple, the National League should be started in the first weekend of January and finished by the end of March; the championship should then start in June and finish by the end of August. Instead of putting first round championship games on different weekends all over the country start them all on the same weekend; play some on a Friday night, then the rest spread out over Saturday and Sunday.
If the Ulster championship final was played on the first weekend in July it would give seven weeks to play three games thus giving September back to the clubs and allowing for a proper closed season in November and December.
I know county teams will want to train for the National League but they’re doing that now anyway, so it wouldn’t change much.
When I suggested this to other members of the Association they have thrown up the old tradition excuse. But are the Compromise Rules part of tradition; were the qualifiers traditional, were black cards and hawk eye old traditions of the Association.
Of course not, but like everything we have to move on, just as they did in the past and will continue to do in the future. Of course someone might throw in the player welfare card. Well that argument went out the door along time ago; inter county players have a shorter career now than ever before.
They are being asked to train like professionals, and they have very little time for anything else outside the game and their job prospects suffer.
By shortening the length of the championship you are shortening the length of time they are being asked to train, thus they are getting some bit of a break whereas now whether you’re a county or a club player you are being handed a training programme schedule and the cycle never stops.
Is it any wonder we had a onslaught of retirements by players who would have one time been considered to be only reaching their prime.