We don’t often get to All-Ireland semi-finals, so when we do you would like to be given every chance to win it. Ever since that Wednesday night when the game against Cavan was called off due to weather conditions, the Ulster U-21 championship was always playing catch up.
It caught up last Saturday in Breffni. Like many others at the start of the year, my expectations were high for this Donegal side. Winning Ulster, while not seen as a formality, but it was to be expected. Kerry were the team to be feared and Dublin were seen as having it too handy in Leinster.
Donegal struggled from the very start on Saturday. They looked leggy, their shooting was off; they were a yard or two off the pace and the confidence they had showed in Ulster was not there.
I am sure that Declan Bonner or the players will not make any excuses. Dublin were better on the day and that’s all that counts; that’s sport. But let’s be clear, playing an Ulster final on Monday night and then being asked to play an All-Ireland semi-final on the Saturday is not acceptable.
Why would we even ask our best and brightest talent to do this? We allow our senior players three and four weeks in between senior championship games, but we allow four and a bit of a day for these lads.
I know there is a huge issue around fixtures and the debate will go on for years to come but do we really think this shows anything but contempt for these young men. Yes, Ulster had a problem with the fixtures; other provinces got their house in order and got the games played with a few weeks to spare between their provincial final and the semi-finals, but can we just blame it on a fixtures committee in Ulster. The competition was run off on Wednesday nights between National League games. Are we for real? Player welfare, player burnout, respect, somebody’s having a laugh.
I would have been one of those who felt that more should have been done to keep the U-21 competition alive, having played in it for a couple of years. I thought it was a great stepping stone into senior football. However when you see it run of in the manner it was played out this year, maybe they’re right. Maybe there is no room for it in the fixture list.
It’s funny we can find weekends for higher education competitions, trips to Australia for a competition that means nothing, three extra dates to run of a league format at the quarter-final stage of the All-Ireland series, yet we can’t do anything for the young lads.
Many of this year’s team have been together four or five years. They have sacrificed a great deal. Supporters will never know how much, and for those lads to get their hands on that little bit of gold would have meant the world to them. But having it decided after only a few days after winning their provincial title maybe says a lot of what we think of those sacrifices.
We also have to consider that none of the Dublin lads were asked to play National League fixtures alongside their U-21 games, a sensible approach. Dublin do have a lot more resources in terms of players than maybe Donegal do, but should we not have rested at least a few of our lads? Should we not be thinking of the bigger picture?
From the outside there didn’t seem to be any understanding for the U-21 team players when it came to playing the last few National League games. We were safe in Division One. Did we really have to have them playing two games a week? It begs the question, were there any communication between the two camps at all?
BLACK CARD debate
One of the main reasons behind the introduction of the black card was, among other things, the tackle Sean Cavanagh made on Conor McManus in an All-Ireland semi-final. McManus was going through to score a goal in the closing minutes when Cavanagh pulled him down from behind, only to receive a yellow card. The Sunday Game panellists went on a rant, with Brolly as usual going over the top. He considered it a disgrace and an obscenity that Cavanagh should even consider such a thing.
There was outrage from many quarters about how RTE let Brolly away with his reaction to Cavanagh. Indeed many believed the GAA should have done more to protect Cavanagh’s good name. But was it because it was one of the Ulster sides. Of course that was rubbished at the time; remember in the eyes of many, Tyrone with the blanket defence and Jim McGuinness’s all out defensive strategies have been blamed for all that is wrong with Gaelic football. Are we being a bit too sensitive? Maybe or maybe not. It seems it was a different story after this year’s National League final when Kerry’s Anthony Maher hauled down Dublin defender Michael Fitzsimons as he closed in on goal. The view from many of the same pundits was that it was a black card worth taking; it was taking one for the team. There was no criticism of Maher and rightly so; the old motto, whatever it takes to get the job done, just like Cavanagh.
Or was it because he played for one of the kingpins of Gaelic games? You decide for yourself.