Jim McGuinness has admitted he is “absolutely gutted” at the Central Competitions Control Committee’s proposal to restructure the National Football League for 2012.
McGuinness’s Donegal put in a strong spring to claim the NFL Division Two title after wins in Tyrone, Derry and Meath, as well as defeating Antrim at home on the way to claiming the crown following a 2-11 to 0-16 win over Laois at Croke Park. Alongside Laois, who were also promoted, Donegal had expected to join Cork, Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Armagh and Down in Division One next term.
Donegal’s fine league campaign laid a solid foundation for their first Ulster championship victory in 19 years, which they achieved following a 1-11 to 0-8 win over Derry last month in Clones.
Victory in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kildare followed, which set Donegal up for a meeting with Leinster champions Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday week, August 28.
However, the CCCC have drawn up a proposal for restructuring both the hurling and football league formats, with Division One of the NFL containing 16 teams, which will be broken into Divisions 1A and 1B. Therefore, Tyrone, Kildare, Westmeath, Meath, Louth, Derry, Monaghan and Galway would also form part of Division One, with the teams drawn eight in each league on two-year cycles to ensure freshness.
The remaining counties will be evenly divided between Divisions Three and Four. Potential changes to the league format will be discussed by Central Council on Saturday at Croke Park where Donegal will be represented by delegate Niall Erskine.
“We’re very, very disappointed,” McGuinness said. “Absolutely gutted to be honest. I’m gutted for the players. We took every game on its merits. We qualified for the final, went to Croke Park and then won the league. All respect to the teams coming out of Division Three but they could end up now playing Cork, Kerry and Dublin and we worked so hard this year to get into that position.
“We are preparing ourselves for next year and have a young group of players. We were looking forward to fresh teams, fresh venues and fresh competition and that would’ve left next year for us very enjoyable having played the teams we did this year.
“This news is breaking now and it’s breaking two weeks before the game (against Dublin) and it’s a negative for our fellas. They put a lot into it and they got promoted and there is a significant gulf between Division Three and the top three or four in Division One. Now all entries are going into a hat or a draw.
“From the point of view of preparing a team and challenging yourself against the best, I don’t understand it. Kerry and Cork have won All-Irelands and National Leagues in the last few years and it’s a privilege to play those teams.
“You need to fight your way up the leagues to get that opportunity. We were lucky enough to get that opportunity this year and were really looking forward to it and now we could be in Omagh again next year and in Kildare again and no disrespect to them teams, it’s not what we were planning.”
The new proposed format would also see the return of Division One semi-finals, while the bottom team in each of 1A and 1B would be relegated and replaced by the top two in Division Two.
“The various proposals have been with the counties for the last number of weeks and they’ve been asked to consider them this Saturday,” said the GAA’s head of games administration and player welfare Fergal McGill.
“The feeling in football is that there’s very little difference between the current Division One and Division Two but more importantly it addresses the perceived staleness of the football league.
“It would also give teams in Division Three the chance to move straight up to the top flight, which the new Division 1A and 1B would effectively be. In both football and hurling it is possible for the status quo to continue, but the CCCC have a responsibility to look at the league structures and consider ways to improve them.”
Prior to Tuesday night’s press briefing the Donegal panel trained behind closed doors at MacCumhaill Park. When it was suggested the reason for the lock-out was because GAA analyst Joe Brolly, who is currently on holiday in Donegal, was present at training the previous week at O’Donnell Park in Letterkenny, McGuinness refuted.
“Not all the sessions are behind closed doors,” he said. “We work one night on fitness and one night on tactical stuff so the night Joe was in Letterkenny it was fitness and tonight it was tactical. You’re not going to spend two nights in the one week working on tactical. We have to look after the fitness as well as that’s the approach we have taken all year.”
After the training session, selector Rory Gallagher noted Michael Hegarty’s fitness is not as it had been hoped. The centre-forward sustained a knee injury against Kildare last month and was substituted in the second half but had returned to action for his club Kilcar on Saturday evening against St Michael’s, playing the full hour at wing-back in the 1-9 to 0-9 All-County League Division Two win.
“The knee swelled up a wee bit afterwards, so Michael is still not back 100 per cent,” Gallagher said. “He is getting physiotherapy and the injury is being iced but he should be alright in a couple of days.”
A quad-muscle injury prevented Martin McElhinney taking part in the same club game for St Michael’s at the weekend, while wing-forward Ryan Bradley complained of a slight groin strain following Tuesday’s session.
“They will be fine,” Gallagher added. “It is just wee niggles, nothing serious. Everyone is pretty good at this point. We are in a string place at the moment, not a bad place to be at this stage of the championshi