If last Sunday’s championship match against Antrim was a boxing contest it would have been stopped in the second or third round.
Donegal, after a bit of a slow start, just shifted up a couple of gears and were never under any serious pressure. It begs the question once again: Does the Provincial Championship model really help those teams struggling to make their way forward?
It would be easy to be over critical of the Antrim players; there were plenty roaring at them with all sorts of advice that could not be printed. In fact most of it was embarrassing. They were nowhere near to where a county that has the population that they have should be. We would be critical if the likes of Cork or Dublin were getting hammerings like that. What’s going on? I have often heard of the great divide between the city clubs and the rural clubs but to tell you the truth, it sounds more of an excuse that anything else. Surely there is something deeper than that.
Yes, they were quite strong in hurling but that seems to have gone by the wayside. Can we put blame on successive county boards who have failed to rectify or even address the problems? Again that would be too easy. I am sure the managers of both the hurlers and footballers are backed as well as every other county in the province.
Conleth Gilligan, on the Tom Comack GAA show on Highland last week, commented on the fact that a lot of players in the so-called weaker counties are no longer prepared to commit to a long year of training with little reward. They would rather enjoy playing for their clubs where less is expected.
The point is relevant throughout the country where county managers are struggling to get the best players interested. Many players are reluctant to put their lives on hold just to play a game where there is little or no reward, especially in a county where successes are winning an odd National League game or, if you’re lucky, a game in the Qualifiers.
Too much is made of these little wins? There is always that condescending comment or two where we hear it’s great for the so-called weaker sides, but it never lasts. Every so often one of those weaker sides get a run in the championship and it allows the authorities not to make any change to the present format. It isn’t working and anybody that says otherwise is kidding themselves.
The game last Sunday attracted over 10,000 people to Ballybofey. The media were there in force. It’s not promoting the game in any way. Yes, of course Antrim deserve to play the likes of Donegal or Dublin but they, like many of the other sides who are struggling at the moment, need to do more. Their county boards and clubs need to do more to encourage their players to make that commitment, to want to play for their county and, above all, be the best they can be.
It’s too easy to say, we gave our best and that’s all we can do. It begs the question, is playing for your county that important any more? Or is it only important when the county you’re playing for is strong and successful?
With the greatest respect to all those that play, there will be plenty more one sided games before the championship really starts. It’s not good enough year after year that we talk about this but little or nothing is done or will be done. What kind of people are we that we continually give out about something but do nothing? This country is riddled with this sort of bull. It’s not about things being fair or unfair, because every team will have their time in the doldrums. Make no mistake we, too, will find ourselves the whipping boys if we take anything for granted. As a county we are fortunate that this present group of players and those who have played in the last five or six years have inspired generations to continue but if we take a look back in history it was not always like that and if the crystal ball was working we might see a future that will not be as promising. Then we might wonder why things can’t be changed.
George Washington said “how far you go in this life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these”.
It would be fair to say that this game will not have helped Donegal. Yes, the younger lads will have tasted a big championship occasion in MacCumhaill Park, and that is always a great day, but to call the level of tackling or physicality championship pace might be stretching it a bit. Bar a couple of missed tackles it was more like a challenge game.
Rory Gallagher and his management team will be happy that things went well and hopefully there were no injuries but he will know this will be nowhere near what is coming down the track from the likes of Tyrone or Monaghan. The lads making their championship debuts did well; they were by no means overawed by the occasion and slotted into the game with the utmost of ease. It would be hard to find fault with any of their performances and to single out one over another would be unfair. There will be tougher days ahead and bigger challenges.