As the first third-tier competitions draw to a close this week, the annual conversation surrounding the games’ load on inter-county players still in college will soon be put back in storage for another 12 months.
Jeffrey Lynskey and Brian Ryan are two of many third-tier managers who sincerely hope they don’t have to answer that same call next year to vent about the unfairness of what’s being asked of inter-county players. in January and February and once again implore Croke Park to make changes.
“There are solutions on the table, it’s about doing something with them now. The worst thing is to do nothing at all and have the same discussion next year,” said Lynksey, Director of NUIG Fitzgibbon.
“This is a critical time for third level competitions. It would be a shame to see them even tighter, like other GAA competitions have been in the past, and then they’re lost,” added UL Fitzgibbon boss Ryan.
Given how in touch he is with requests from college inter-county players, it’s no surprise that it was Keith Ricken who started the conversation this year.
Following Cork’s McGrath Cup win over Waterford on January 11, MTU Cork GAA Development Manager Ricken requested that the McGrath Cup Final be postponed for a week so as not to cut the first two rounds of Sigerson.
“It’s the first time in two years that the Sigerson has taken place and you need them to enjoy it. You don’t want to cut that and tell the guys you can’t play Sigerson. They need to be with their peers to grow,” Ricken said.
What happened at Tralee and Templetuohy the next day struck at the heart of the overloaded January game schedule that Ricken had denounced the night before as Tony Brosnan and Jack Savage came off the bench for Kerry hours after queuing for MTU Kerry in the Sigerson Cup.
MTU Kerry manager Aidan O’Mahony, when asked about this latest player welfare facepalm, said it was “very difficult to put the chains on the players”. And while O’Connor later conceded that he should have told the pair not to drive the 200km from Tralee to Templetuohy, the fact remains – and will remain until change is implemented – that cross-county players will serve as many January masters as needed. so as not to jeopardize their interdepartmental ambitions.
“If you play at Fitzgibbon on a Wednesday and then you are asked to play for your county on Saturday, are you going to refuse? You’re not,” Lynksey remarked. “But are you in the best shape, mentally and physically, for this? No, you are not and you risk injuring yourself.
“We were lucky with injuries, but in the case of Maurice Sheridan with the Sigersons, they had two big hits (Sean Mulkerrin and Tommy Conroy). Because guys are playing such a volume of games, it’s going to happen. Who is going to do something about it? It’s the same discussion every year.
Conroy, who tore his brace while queuing for NUIG two days after playing League for Mayo, has become a totem for the pressures student footballers face. But turn back the years and you’ll find plenty of other Tommy Conroys, like in February 2016 when Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion suffered hamstring and quad injuries for UCD in their fifth game in 16 days across college and the count. .
Communication between college and county managers has certainly improved since the days of Jim McGuinness and Niall Moyna rowing over DCU-based Donegal footballers, but while John Kiely can afford to leave Cian Lynch with the Lynskey’s NUIG and Henry Shefflin can give Lynch’s Fitzgibbon teammate Evan Niland last Saturday there are a far greater number of county managers who lack the depth of talent to allow their college players to sit out at National League rates.
Colm O’Rourke recently suggested playing the Third Tier Championships before Christmas, but neither Ryan nor Lynksey see it as a runner due to club activity at this time of year, as well as university exams.
Lynskey wants preseason competitions scrapped and the start of the League pushed back by at least a week to give colleges January and early February.
Ryan’s suggestion, meanwhile, goes back to the proposed rule mentioned by Éamonn Fitzmaurice on RTÉ League on Sunday that third-tier players cannot be selected for an inter-county game for the duration of the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups.
“What I am asking is that third tier players be separated from their college from the time college panels are registered with Croke Park on January 10 until their college is eliminated,” said Ryan.
Lynskey concluded: “There’s no point in Croke Park having all these committees, and I’ve been on them, where you report, a nice shiny document is produced, and then it’s left on the shelf.
“As one player told me, it’s really, really hard to do college and county. Can we just give them a chance, please.