With the disappointment of a couple of weeks ago still fresh on the minds of everyone the players, who were affected more than anyone, had to get back to reality last weekend.
The club championship got underway with games played on both Saturday and Sunday.
Before we go into where the Dr. Maguire might end up this year let’s ask the question - ‘ is this the right way to run off our most prestigious club competition’?
Everyone is clear as to why we called off the club championship. If you were to ask any club member within the county they would say that Jim and his management team wanted it off but that’s not technically what happened.
Our club delegates, who attend monthly meetings, decided that there would be no club championship until Donegal were finished in the All-Ireland series.
If it was the case that no one at those meetings actually believed that Donegal would reach the All-Ireland fina it is not surprising. After all it’s not every year your county reaches the last two.
However there should have been allowances made for such an outcome. Again we find ourselves back with the same problems we had in 2012. We are not as a county catering for player welfare. The last thing that anyone wants is players getting injured but playing so many important games in such a short period heightens the risk of major injuries.
Some club players have been training since last January; ten months later they are asked to play week after week championship football. When you consider that Croke Park don’t ask county players to do the same what sort of message are we sending out to those club players who give up their summers in the hope that the championship is to go ahead.
Of course there are no simple solutions to the problem. County boards all over the country are faced with the same predicament; how to keep the county management and players happy and at the same time look after the interests of what we are told by many in high office the lifeblood of the GAA “the club player”.
Of course this problem will continue until a number of things are sorted out. First of all I think Croke Park need to tidy up the length it takes to run off the All-Ireland series; they also need to set dates for counties to play their club championship and county boards have to follow them. Finally, the All-Ireland club championship needs to be played in the calendar year giving a closed season for all players, both club and county.
So what club will have the Dr. Maguire as their special guest at the club dinner dance this year? The usual suspects are always expected to compete for the top honours, Glenswilly, St Eunan’s, Glenties, Gweedore, Dungloe, St Michael’s, Ardara, Four Masters, Killybegs and of course many people’s favourites Kilcar.
If we go on league form Kilcar are the team to beat. They have a young squad with a lot of talented players and with Michael Hegarty pulling the strings in the middle of the field they will have a major say in this year’s competitio. Also they have brought in Rory Gallagher to make sure they finally land that title that has eluded them for the since 1993.
Glenswilly, last year’s champions and Ulster club finalists, will by no means hand their title over but much will depend on how much more they can get out of Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy who were monumental in Donegal’s run this year. St. Michael’s, who are in the same group as Glenswilly and Kilcar, will have their work cut out to qualify for the quarter-finals. Over the years they have promised so much but have just fell short every time but it’s hard to write off a team with the likes of Christy Toye, Martin McElhinney and Colm McFadden. Again like Glenswilly it will be interesting to see if their county players have the hunger for the challenge of the next couple of weeks.
St Eunan’s are always expected to be in the mix, the biggest club in the county with a steady flow of talent coming through but they were disappointing last year. Their usual dominance of the league has taken a back seat this year trying out new players in a lot of games. They will not take anyone for granted this year and could be the biggest challenge to Kilcar.
Glenties, at one point, threatened to take senior football by storm but they have failed to lift the title since 2010 and when you consider the steady flow of underage titles it’s hard to think what has gone wrong. They have a lot of good players in their squad and with the likes of Anthony Thompson and Leo McLoone to lead them they are surely in with a shout. Gweedore under the management of Paddy Bradley and Kevin Cassidy are another team that can’t be ruled out, with the McGees and Odhran MacNiallais, the county minor contingent and of course Cassidy himself within their squad, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
With the second round of games in the group section to go ahead this weekend it might just throw up a number of surprises. Club players are not used to playing such high intensity games on consecutive weekends so there may be a drop in form with players. Clubs with bigger squads will have the advantage with games on a weekly basis especially with injuries or suspensions. While it is not the ideal way of playing off the championship it is what it is and we are where we are but the team that wants it most and have that little bit of luck will come through. Time will tell.