Donegal in transition

Ending a career or taking a year out is a big decision

Donegal in transition

The GAA season got off the ‘mark’ literally last weekend. The GAA has introduced another new rule borrowed from Aussie Rules football. The rule states that “When a player catches the ball cleanly from a kick-out without it touching the ground, on or past the 45m line nearest the kick-out point, he shall be awarded ‘a mark’ by the referee. The player awarded a ‘mark’ shall have the options of (a) taking a free kick or (b playing on immediately."

I’m not really sure what this will achieve or what it’s meant to achieve. Initially, I thought it was to reintroduce the skill of high-fielding but, I’m surmising that it’s a half-hearted attempt to tackle the defensive system which most teams now employ. According to my sources who attended the McKenna Cup game in Ballybofey last Sunday, one wouldn’t have noticed that this new rule was in place. I didn’t get to the game since I was instructed to make some family visits; what families are supposed to do on a Sunday apparently. I did have access to the Highland Radio commentary between stops so I wasn’t completely out of touch with the afternoon’s GAA events.

Declan Bonner’s U-21 lads performed brilliantly and should have won this game. Given that UUJ were missing some players, it made for a more even contest. Senior inter-county teams may prove a bit more difficult but the Donegal U-21 outfit seems to be well up for the challenges ahead. The U-21 championship begins in March and as long as the players can stay clear of injuries, this competition may prove a blessing in disguise. It must be said that these players are also involved in a pre-season U-21 competition as it is. Last Sunday’s game was a very entertaining contest where many of our young talents played very well. Declan Bonner has had these players under his wing for a number of years as minors. There is obviously a mutual respect and a great understanding for and between Declan and his players. It’s a unique bond that takes a long time to form. So, well done to Declan and his young charges.

While the U-21’s are performing admirably, we are all looking forward to seeing how our senior team will do in the season ahead. Odhran Mac Niallais will be a huge loss to the county as will Leo McLoone. Another Glenties man Anthony Thompson may not join the squad until after Easter. I hear that some of our other senior players are now considering their futures. This is the time of year when the rumour mill rumbles most. The days are short, the weather is bleak and the glory days of the championship are but a fleeting and distant thought. The youngsters throughout the county are pushing hard which puts added pressure on the more mature guys who are contemplating another hard slog. Odhran Mac Niallais, who is only reaching his prime, is taking a year out which is perfectly acceptable. He is a young lad with loads of ability and his talents will be sorely missed by those of us who appreciate class such as his. This is a selfish perspective as a Donegal fan and I’d like to wish Odhran all the best for the coming year.

Like any sport, the GAA will see players come and go and there will always be others to step into their boots. For a number of years now, Donegal Gaelic football has been in a good place. Our senior and underage teams have been and will be competing for honours. This season may see our senior team go through a transition phase where Donegal team manager Rory Gallagher, either through choice or having no alternative, will introduce new talent.

The conclusion of the 2017 season, if not before, undoubtedly will signal the end of the road for several of our seasoned campaigners. It’s amazing though how the apathy which is consistent with the January blues can disappear once the time changes at the end of March. As the evenings become clearer so does the mind. The smell of the summer and the championship lingers in the spring air. The hunger for the cut and thrust of competitive football is unavoidable.

I was once told that “a player will miss football more than the football will miss the player”. It’s a very difficult time for the older players. Whatever their decisions, they have to be respected. Let’s see what the next few weeks bring.

The New Year has already brought the ‘mark’ to the game and it is interesting to note that the CPA (Club Players’ Association) has been launched this week. CPA Chairman Michael Briody said: “The underlying principal of the Club Players’ Association is the emotional and physical well-being of our players. They deserve the opportunity to train and play meaningful games, in a balanced fixture programme. Our main focus is to fix the fixtures.”

This is a very necessary initiative and has been long overdue. The heart of the GAA lies with the club players who fly the GAA flag without due recognition and who are left stranded in the middle of the summer when the inter-county championship takes precedence. Accommodating both inter-county and club players will require a complete restructuring of the timetables for the respective leagues and championships. The GAA will be forced into action by the CPA. There are difficult but interesting times ahead for the GAA.

I would like to thank the Donegal Sports Star Awards committee and their sponsors, the Donegal County Council, for inviting me to the launch of their 41st Annual Sports Awards event in the Mount Errigal Hotel last Monday evening. It was a great evening where former winners were able to catch up and share some memories. The 2016 Donegal Sports Star Awards will take place on Friday, 29th January in the Mount Errigal Hotel. This is the only outlet where tickets can be bought. Thanks again to the above mentioned for a wonderful evening.