There are very few subjects that cause as many arguments as club fixtures do within GAA circles in Donegal. Every year with the best intentions the good people who are given the task of setting the fixtures are faced with a number of key problems.
They have to take on board what the county team manager might want. Jim McGuinness is not the first manager and won’t be the last to demand that county players are free from playing for their clubs on certain weekends.
The county players themselves are caught between a rock and a hard place; while they want to be successful at county level they don’t want to let their clubs down so often as not a compromise has to be found. However, in the last decade or so it’s been the club player who has always lost out. It’s as if their commitment and time mean nothing compared to that of their county team counterparts.
The county board have a problem in that in order to promote the organisation throughout the county they need the county teams to be successful. They have to be seen to support their managers at all levels and at times they have to make some hard decisions.
Again it is the club players who suffer. To be fair to many in the county board they have very little choice; they’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t, so they always tend to side with the county teams.
The last piece of the jigsaw are the clubs themselves. For those who don’t know clubs will send delegates to county board meetings where all sorts of issues will be discussed. Fixtures will always come up and when the county manager asks for a free weekend for his players what club delegate is going to stand up and say no. First of all he would be accused of not being supportive of his county; he will be called selfish for just looking after his own club and when he or she looks around the room for support , there will be silence and the motion of a free weekend will be passed.
Clubs are supposed to be the cornerstone of the organisation. President after President have told us in their speeches that the GAA is all about the club. However, it’s a bit like the politician that comes around to your door telling you he or she will get your street lights fixed or your road newly tarred but after they get into office they forget where you live and the lights are still off and you’re still trying to avoid the potholes.
Some might say, so what; if they want to play for their club they should suck it up and get on with it. Well just to let you know most club players will have about three to four weeks of gym training under their belt and we’re only in the third week of February. They will train two if not three times a week in order to have the appropriate pre-season done. They will play maybe three or four tournament or challenge games in order to be up to speed for the start of the league.
It would be no exaggeration to suggest that what commitment was expected of county players ten years ago is now expected from club players. However, the only difference being that county players know when their games are scheduled.
Maybe you might think I am exaggerating a bit but look at the upcoming fixture scenario. The first game of the league will be played on the weekend of the 23rd of March. Donegal will play Louth on March 30th; they will play Armagh a week later on 6th April. There is a planned trip abroad for a training camp and if Donegal have a good league run the league final will be played before the end of April meaning there may not be another free weekend until May to play the next round of league fixtures.
How on earth can a club manager or player plan ahead or even commit to that uncertainty? With the new league structures there are 18 league games this year. Then we get into the summer and the demands made on county players to totally commit to county only will increase even further; pressure on the fixture list; clubs will refuse then to play without their county players as soon as they lose a few games when there county stars are not available.
As we all hope Donegal will get a great run in the championship; the club championship is already on hold until the county team have completed their season. We could be into September and very few league fixtures played and the championship around the corner and then we go back to the farce of the 2012 club championship.
It’s time for a bit of common sense to prevail and for the clubs to stand up for their players in the same manner Jim Mc Guinness stands up for his lads.
It’s time for club delegates to take on board the commitment their own players give to their club and don’t give in just because it’s expected and it’s time for the county board to stand up for all it’s members and not just the chosen few.
I have no doubt the county lads will not mind having to play a few games instead of another training session. If the next group of players are going to come through we need proper structures at club level to give them that chance; having regular games throughout the season is only a start.
The GAA asks us to respect match officials and rightfully so but shouldn’t we also respect everyone else involved in this organisation and that includes club players.