It’s that time of year again. As Christmas becomes another memory, we look forward to the New Year with enthusiasm and hope.
Our Donegal senior squad will begin their 2017 campaign without Colm McFadden and Eamon McGee. That others have not decided to hang up their boots can only be seen as a positive for the squad in general but may prove a headache for team manager Rory Gallagher who has intimated that he will be focusing on our aspiring young talent this season. I understand that Leo McLoone has pulled out of the squad. Many of our youngsters will get their chance in the McKenna Cup which begins on January 8th. Apparently, Donegal will be using our U-21 players in this pre-season competition.
Our National League campaign begins with a mouth-watering home game against Kerry on February 5th when we will see our senior players enter the fray. By the end of these series of games we will have a clearer picture of the make-up of the team as the championship nears. A lot of water will have gone under the bridge before that.
As always, as the new season approaches we have much to look forward to. Donegal and Tyrone remain the best two teams in Ulster. Nationwide, Dublin and Kerry are the teams to beat. As for Mayo, one wonders what their future holds after the public disclosure of discontent within the squad in recent weeks. Perhaps this is what was needed in Mayo. There has been player interference in respect of team selection especially in respect of which goalkeeper line out in this year’s All-Ireland final. The selection backfired. Hopefully, this debacle will separate the wheat from the chaff and that Mayo can go on and realise their potential.
In the past, Donegal had their in-house disagreements and indiscipline but, look what happened when Messrs McGuinness and Gallagher took the reins. Despite our loss to Tyrone by two points in this year’s Ulster final, Donegal know that they should have closed out this game. We have been the form team in Ulster since we got our house in order and things look set to remain that way for many years to come.
It would be fitting that Donegal would lift another Ulster title in 2017 given that the county won an epic final against Derry 25 years ago. That team of 1992 will be honoured at next year’s final. Those years have flown in but the memories never fade.
I was asked to talk to the children at a local primary school last week in respect of my book and especially football. The kids at Gleneely National School had some serious questions. “When did I first start playing football? Who was my toughest opponent? How many goals did I score? Did I ever get into a fight? Who was the best player that I ever played with? Did I train hard? What does it take to be an inter-county Gaelic footballer?
These children’s parents were only children back in 1992. Some things never change though. To be an inter-county player requires a superhuman desire and dedication to the game. I recently talked to some of our current players who were undecided about going back into the inter-county scene. I have to emphasise that these are players who are in their peak. As supporters, we do not the tough slog that it is. The time, sacrifice, hardship and pain are all realities that our players need to take into consideration. Fortunately, we have plenty of men willing to make the hard calls so that they can wear the colours.
As the New Year approaches, the players will be chomping at the bit in anticipation of the challenges ahead. Although a lot of players will not have played competitive football for a while, they will have been doing their conditioning work in the gym. As the evenings begin to stretch again, these guys will only be too glad to get back into the playing arena again. Twenty-five years ago, we didn’t know what conditioning meant. Today it is the buzz word and so vital to performance. Even youngsters are aware about conditioning. There are limits though and I believe that some underage groups overstep the mark in this respect. Young lads need to develop naturally before they undertake serious weight and circuit training. Undoubtedly, this is an issue which will crop up a lot more in the future. It’s all a learning curve for players, managers and coaches. We have accepted that training regimes have changed and that there’s no turning back. Let’s see what 2017 brings. The GAA has a battle on its hands in many respect of taming the lion that it has created.
In conclusion, 2016 was a very special year for me when I wrote and published my autobiography. I want to sincerely thank all of you who bought the book because your monies go directly to Pieta House Donegal. I also lost a great friend and confidant Father Paul Gallagher in 2016. I visited his mother Celene recently in Falcarragh. Naturally, she misses her son greatly but the burden of her grief is somewhat lessened in the knowledge that Fr. Paul saved so many souls during his earthly life. I would like to wish you all and especially Celene Gallagher and her family a peaceful New year.
Keep the faith.