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'Facing colleges helps counties'

COLLEGE boys aren't the bad guys of the early-season competitions in the GAA, says the DCU football club chairman Robert Hennelly -- who also happens to be a player.

Mayo inter-county goalkeeper Hennelly has an inside perspective on the debate that has blown up this week after comments made by DCU manager Professor Niall Moyna and Donegal boss Jim McGuinness.

Moyna criticised McGuinness after last Sunday's Bord na Mona O'Byrne Cup semi-final between DCU and Meath over the withdrawal of midfielder Martin McElhinney. The DCU boss was annoyed that McElhinney was called up by Donegal instead of being left to play with DCU against Meath.

The player, however, was injured in the warm-up for the challenge game against Monaghan and thus missed out on playing for Donegal as well as DCU.

Moyna's verbal blast was refuted by McGuinness, but yesterday the Donegal manager added fuel to the fire by saying he would have to consider whether last year's All-Ireland semi-finalists should play in next year's McKenna Cup if the college players weren't released to play for their counties.

McGuinness has gone public with his views, but privately other managers will back him up. It's no secret that many county team bosses would prefer the colleges to remain in their own big competitions -- the Sigerson Cup in football and the Fitzgibbon Cup in hurling -- instead of playing in the various provincial early-season senior inter-county competitions.

And they would also be happy if the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups were scheduled for a time of year when they didn't clash with inter-county fare.

It's a side issue that is one for debate, but it shouldn't affect DCU's preparations for the O'Byrne Cup final against Kildare in Newbridge tomorrow.

Hennelly, who is joint-chairman of DCU's football club with Aaron Clogher, can see the arguments on both sides, but appeals for common sense. The 21-year-old, who played in Mayo's successful Connacht championship campaign of 2011, believes that the colleges enhance competitions in all the provinces and favours co-operation rather than confrontation.

"Some people call it a hindrance and there is this kind of a highly publicised battle between senior inter-county players and the colleges," he said. "You'd be worried about there being a struggle for players, and players being caught in the middle of situations that are not of their making.

"We don't need that. We've enough on our plate with exams pressure at this time of year. We want to play for our county, but we want to play for our college and we've got obligations to play for both.

"It's hard to find middle ground but, personally, I'm lucky enough with James (Horan, the Mayo manager) that I have found that. He's very understanding and it makes things a lot easier when management work with the college teams."

Hennelly is firmly in favour of the colleges' participation in the early-season competitions.

"I can understand it's hard for counties. They're coming back into action and they're not meant to be training during the ban and they haven't caught up to the same level of fitness as the colleges," he said. "It isn't a nice thing for a county team to lose to a college team obviously, but it makes the competition a lot more competitive.

"Without the colleges, it's just a load of county teams trying out different players, so there is this sense that counties seem to up their game against teams like us.

"As we've seen in Leinster, Kildare put a huge emphasis on the O'Byrne Cup and they obviously see the benefit of it.

"It's a very good way to see new players and build up for the National League, and having college teams in the O'Byrne Cup and the other competitions is essential."

Two years ago, DCU won the O'Byrne Cup -- they were the first non-county side to win it -- and the Sigerson Cup.

Their main objective is to mount a strong challenge for the Sigerson Cup, but Kieran McGeeney's Kildare will command their attention this weekend. It promises to be quite a game, as DCU feature Dublin All-Ireland winners Philly McMahon, James McCarthy, Eoghan O'Gara and Paul Flynn among a host of county players.

Hennelly may be chairman of the club, but he can't pull rank as he awaits a decision on his fitness in advance of the match. He suffered a minor fracture of the elbow in the first match against Wicklow, and since then Donegal's Michael Boyle has taken the No 1 jersey.

Hennelly is declaring himself fit, however: "I just made myself available and if he (Moyna) decides to give me the call, then great but, I'll understand if I don't play.

"Kildare will be our biggest test yet. They're moving very well and were impressive the last day against Dublin. They're very good and they look very fit. If we can play a similar game as we did against Meath, we can give them a good run for their money.

"They're very strong in midfield as well. That's the main difference between Sigerson teams and inter-county teams, that bit of physical strength around the middle of the field. If we can match them in the physical stakes and move the ball fast, I think we can beat them."

The Mayo man, who is studying communications, is a member of a growing club -- the 'keepers who come forward and kick '45s' and long frees.

Stephen Cluxton is the highest profile goalkeeper-cum-points-scorer, but Hennelly, fellow Mayo 'keeper Dave Clarke and Limerick's Brian Scanlon have got on the scorers list.

"The way I think of it, whoever's the best at kicking it over the bar, let him kick it over the bar. If it's me, I'll take them and if it's Dave (Clarke) or whoever, that's fine," he said.

Irish Independent