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Beaten finalists being hit for six

A HIGH profile Monaghan GAA official has called on Croke Park to review its summer fixture schedule which allowed the beaten provincial football finalists from Ulster and Connacht just six days recovery time before returning to qualifier action.

"The bottom line is that six days in unfair," former Monaghan chairman John Connolly told the Evening Herald, while Sligo manager Kevin Walsh blasted the policy as "complete crap" on The Sunday Game.

A dejected Walsh was speaking in the wake of Sligo's 19-point capitulation to Down in their round four qualifier at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday night. Earlier that afternoon, in Croke Park, Monaghan were a pale shadow of their usually feisty selves against Kildare and looked poised for a heavy defeat before a late comeback reduced the margin to four points.

Both counties were trying to bounce back from particularly painful provincial final defeats the previous Sunday. Monaghan's high expectations of a first Ulster title in 22 years were ruthlessly crushed by Tyrone, who cruised to a ten-point triumph.

Meanwhile, over in Connacht, Sligo couldn't handle red-hot favouritism against Roscommon who recorded a shock one-point ambush.

This left Walsh, as well as Monaghan boss Seamus McEnaney, trying to pick up the pieces in double-quick time -- and clearly the mental toll, whatever about physical fatigue, proved too big an obstacle to further progress.

Connolly -- who is Monaghan's Ulster Council delegate as well as the county team's liason officer -- has responded by imploring Croke Park to restore a 13-day break for vanquished provincial finalists.

"I am not being a bad loser but when you see Sligo and ourselves, the bottom line is that six days is unfair. You have a big build-up for a provincial final -- a lot of preparation, a lot of hard work put in by players and team management. Then you are beaten on the day and out six days later -- there is no recovery time at all," he complained.

To date, Dublin in 2001 are the only example of a team that lost a provincial final (to Meath) and then bounced back to win a qualifier the following week (against Sligo). At the end of 2004, the six-day turnaround was deemed unfair and, for the next four summers, runners-up were handed a minimum 13-day sabbatical before facing into the qualifiers. However, this policy was dropped last summer and both Galway and Antrim suffered the consequences of the six-day turnaround.


"Is ten years not a good enough stat?" Connolly asked. "I think the GAA should really look at themselves. It's a serious expense on counties and to expect them to come out six days later ... we have proven the point, and Sligo.

"Those teams don't become bad teams overnight -- our good players don't go off overnight," the Monaghan official continued.

"There is far too much talk in the GAA. We really have to put it into action, and do something in October/November."

Clearly, the demands of live TV have a bearing on the July schedule -- as Kevin McStay alluded to on The Sunday Game last night, broadcasters don't want all four provincial finals on the one day.

McStay described the six days as "absolutely unfair" although he pointed out that the qualifiers, in affording a second chance to beaten teams, aren't meant to be easy.