This weekend the Donegal senior championship will get underway. It’s early in the year for championship in Donegal; usually we let the June bank holiday pass before we even think about getting it underway but this year the County Board, probably under a bit of pressure with the club versus county debate, decided to get it underway.
I am not a great admirer of the ‘Champions League style’ group stages draw. I always liked the old draw. In fact over the years many people outside the county reflected on how unique the home and away first round matches were. The group stages were supposed to allow the weaker teams get more experience in playing the better sides and hopefully improve. That doesn’t happen. In the same way the back door system at county level does not work in favour of the weaker sides, the stronger sides get a second chance and they rarely make the same mistake twice.
The big championship upset is now a thing of the past. Very few chances of a Leicester city type upset in the land of the GAA. Another reason I see the group stages not working, as many argued they would, is the break between the first round of games and the next round. As of yet there is no date set aside for the second round as it will probably played when the county team is finished in the All-Ireland series, at the very least three months away unless Donegal have a really bad day at the office.
So how do you prepare a team for that. One championship game in the second week of May, the next? Sure we will let you know lads. How do you expect club players, managers and supporters have an interest in something when the people who we vote to administer our games are not taking it serious.
They will argue, of course, that they do and the reason for the championship starting so early is to get the clubs into championship mode. They may be right. However I believe they are just getting another fixture ticked off so if we have a good run in the All-Ireland series then we will complete our club championship in good time for Ulster. The fact that it’s not fair or reasonable towards club players does not come into the argument. In fact many national commentators have called upon the GAA to reflect on their decision at Congress not to do more to accommodate club players during the summer months but so far we get the same old crap year after year. The club player is just as important to the GAA as any county star. The club is the cornerstone of the Association, great spin but in reality they’re just words and nothing is further from the truth. Neither club players or clubs bring in the big bucks and that’s the cornerstone of GAA Inc.
Well, as they say, we are where we are so who looks to be the team to beat this year. The usual suspects will be expected to be in the mix when the competition gets down to the silverware. Glenties, last year’s champions, would be expected to be one of the top teams in this year’s championship, great squad with new players coming through year after year because of a great underage structure. They are in group D with Termon, Four Masters and Gweedore. I expect Gweedore, who themselves have a strong squad but have struggled in the last few years, to get out of the group stages; great underage players coming through. If they can keep their county players injury free, they can push Glenties all the way.
St Eunan’s are always in the mix. Last year’s beaten finalists have been the most consistent side since the turn of the century; huge club with players coming through all the time. If the championship continues late into the year they could be a good bet. They’re in group B with Killybegs, Kilcar and St. Michael’s. Michael’s went well last year but fell at the semi-final stage; some great players but have struggled to break the stranglehold of Glenswilly, Eunan’s and Glenties; they are one of those teams that you would have expected to win a championship especially when you consider the talent in their squad; will do well to come out of the group with Kilcar their biggest rivals. Kilcar have had huge success at minor and at U-21 these last few years; there is huge pressure to succeed at senior level before this team breaks up; plenty of talent but if the county team do well they could struggle as the year goes on; expect the game with Michael’s to be a cracker. Glenswilly have to be considered; they have built a reputation of being a championship side. A lot depends on the fitness of Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher but since 2010 they have been consistent and have a great team ethic. They’re in a group with Ardara, Dungloe and Bundoran. This is a close group. Bundoran have progressed since last year’s Intermediate success but Ardara and Dungloe are no pushovers; should be an interesting group down to the last game.
As Leicester City finally picked up the Premiership title and completed their fantastic journey, it’s now the time for another team to have a go and do the unthinkable; gives a bit of hope for those teams who go into this weekend’s championship not believing . . . it just could be their year.