Read the Reid: Donegal U-21s suffer injustice

The top brass of GAA had no regard for the players

I listened to the All-Ireland U-21semi-final last Saturday on Highland Radio while I was in Medjugorje. The ‘bean an ti’ must have thought that I was having visions as I sat plugged into my ‘phone openly delighting and bemoaning our scores and missed chances respectively. We rallied for a while at the beginning of the second half but Dublin took charge again and eventually ran out easy winners.

If truth be told, this was always mission impossible for Donegal given the five-day turnaround from the Ulster final. It was an unfair ask. Dublin had been waiting since March 28th for this game. They were well rested. By all accounts, our players were lethargic and tired. Excuses become tiresome but these aren’t excuses, these are facts. It’s a huge injustice on the players and the management. Even the Dublin manager, Dessie Farrell made reference to Donegal’s inadequate rest period.

The U-21 championship has been something of a thorn in the side for the powers that be in Croke Park. They have relegated this competition to a second-tier event. Next year it will be an U-20 competition which make this year’s the last ever. Those who voted to change the competition cited player ‘burn-out’ as the deciding factor. I believe that this is a lame and token excuse.

Next year will see the minor age of U-18 being dropped to U-17. I believe that this will accelerate burn-out at an earlier age. Player apathy and lethargy is only going to happen at an earlier age. Professionalism and brutal training regimes is the norm now for most senior inter-county teams. Shifting the age brackets of under-age football will only facilitate the burn-out factor. We must remember that our players are not full-time players, they still have full-time jobs. This is a worrying trend which needs serious attention.

After the final whistle last Saturday, I genuinely felt for our players, team manager Declan Bonner and all those who were associated with the team. It wasn’t a case of ‘hard luck’. It was a slight on our lads because the GAA hierarchy were adamant to push-on with the game irrespective of player welfare.

Where’s the adherence to their ‘burn-out’ policy here? In time our young players will get over their defeat as will Declan Bonner but there’s always going to be that lingering feeling that if only our team had enough time to rest and prepare for the semi-final. I remember back in 1995 when the reverse was true. We won the Ulster final in the early summer and had to wait until autumn for the semi-final against Kerry. As manager then, I had to give the players a break from training. Our opponents Kerry had a clear run, starting their competition sometime in the summer. I had to regroup and refocus which wasn’t the ideal preparation either.

So, the U-21 competition has been on the slide for a long number of years now in the eyes of the big bosses. The term ‘burn-out’ has been invented in the meantime. A further point of notice is that the U-21 games have been played mid-week in recent years further reducing the competition’s prestige.

As for Declan Bonner and his players, they will march on to great achievements. They can be proud of what they have already achieved and how they have entertained us not only this year but as minors as well. Senior inter-county football awaits most of them since there will be no U-21 competition next year which is such a pity. I’m sure that I am speaking for all Donegal GAA supporters as extend a huge thank you to Declan, his players and his backroom team for all that they are doing for Donegal GAA. Well done and congratulations.

Although I do veer often towards social ethics in the column, I am very concerned with a political issue which has been in the headlines at a local level namely the Finn Valley in recent times. It is in respect of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Stranorlar. While in Medjugorje with four others from the Finn Valley area the topic of conversation at dinner last Thursday evening was the announcement that up to €2.75 million would be spent on facilities in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Stranorlar. We were pleased.

Last Tuesday morning I listened to Fr. John Joe Duffy, Chairperson of Save Our St Joseph’s Action Committee, articulate the true story about the funding on Highland Radio and have since read in Donegal Daily’s website comments. Fr. Duffy said “Focusing on St Joseph’s only today’s (Thursday 13th April) announcement will in no way secure its future – it furthermore does not add one additional service to the hospital, it is a very basic interim measure, no funding is granted – today’s announcement is only a plan to buy time until 2018 only...There is an attempt to present this announcement as something more than it is, perhaps even an attempt to misguide us as a committee, and to misguide the people of the Finn Valley...The original decision to close the Hospital Services, the residential unit/long stay beds at St Joseph’s was a political decision by the previous Government on 26th January, 2016 and nothing short of a political decision can reverse that fact”.

St. Joseph’s Hospital provides vital services here in the Finn Valley. There isn’t a family in the area that doesn’t know or who has had a relative looked after by the wonderful staff there at some time or other. The proposal is that St.Joseph’s be closed and the facility moved to Letterkenny. It seems that there is a lot of political posturing taking place in respect of this facility. Ramelton is faced with the same proposition. I visited St. Joseph’s hospital in 1992 with the Sam Maguire Cup. It was probably the most memorable personal event after Donegal’s historic victory. An elderly gentleman who was bedridden and probably nearing his last few weeks grabbed the cup with both hands. His knuckles went white as tears flowed down his life-wearied face.

I hope and pray that St. Joseph’s will remain open for many years to come.

Keep the faith!