Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 16 December 2018

GAA player drain quickening in lower divisions

Mayo retain almost half of their 2010 squad

Galway manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In just one week last month players from a host of different counties slipped out the back door of their respective inter-county dressing rooms, signing off for the rest of the season at their own discretion.

The reasons were varied, some opting to travel, others committing to final exams while an imbalance between the commitment required and the projected yield may also have been a factor.

Niall Keenan and Ciarán McFaul from Derry, Down's Gerard McGovern and Louth pair Conall McKeever and Patrick Reilly were followed a week later by Roscommon's Seán Muloolly and Niall McInerney.

McInerney is to return for the championship but for the rest, it will be 2019 before they return, that's if they return at all.

In other counties, there are similar less heralded exits that don't make news. In the inter-county game, the revolving doors never pause.

Inevitably, those doors move that little bit quicker in football's lower divisions than they do at the top.

It's only two years ago that Denis Connerton, on returning to inter-county management with Longford after 11 years away, revealed how 40 per cent of the players he had invited on to his initial squad had declined.

Later that year Galway manager Kevin Walsh suggested over 50 players had turned down invitations to come in and either trial or train under his management since he had taken over in the autumn of 2014.

Walsh surely doesn't have that problem now as Galway enjoy the view from the top of the Allianz Division 1 after four successive wins.

And Connerton's Longford have been stringing together some decent performances in Division 3 to make them a more attractive proposition than they were in 2016.

But that doesn't avoid the inescapable conclusion that the turnover of players will be far greater among teams in the lower divisions than the top.

Last year an Irish Independent analysis of players who were still committed to their counties since the start of the decade came up with in excess of 190 names. The criteria used was game-time in the 2010 championship.

In just over 12 months some established names have departed - Kerry's Colm Cooper, Aidan O'Mahony and Bryan Sheehan, Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh, Donegal's Karl Lacey, Mayo's Alan Dillon, Dublin's Denis Bastick, Sligo's Mark Breheny and Cork's Michael Shields and Alan O'Connor among the most high profile of them.

But at the other end departures are felt even more keenly. Limerick's Ian Ryan and Pádraig Browne have both slipped away quietly, Waterford manager Tom McGlinchey could have done with Patrick Hurney around for another season, while Leitrim have lost Gary Reynolds, leaving them without a single survivor from their 2010 championship team. That list goes on.

Retained

The 'class of 2010' is down to 140 just seven seasons later from the approximately 760 players who would have featured in that year's championship.

As the decade's protagonists making most All-Ireland final appearances, Dublin and Mayo have retained most players since 2010.

Remarkably, of the 25 players that featured in Mayo's two championship games in 2010, defeats to Sligo and Longford, 12 are still committed to the cause of chasing down that elusive All-Ireland title.

Dublin used more players under Pat Gilroy that year but still retain 10, five All-Ireland titles in the meantime failing to blunt their hunger.

Regular provincial title winners Kerry and Monaghan are among those with the biggest retention figures with some 53 players from the eight current Division 1 teams, more than double the numbers still present in Division 4 where there are still just 26 by our count.

Against the grain, however, are the numbers retained by Carlow (nine) and Laois (eight), the Division 4 pacesetters. While London and Leitrim have no survivors from 2010, Limerick have just Seamus O'Carroll, and Waterford's Tommy Prendergast and Thomas O'Gorman stay the pace, both Division 4 pacesetters buck that trend.

"That bunch, some would have been on that good minor team in 2007 (when they reached a Leinster minor final," said current Carlow senior manager Turlough O'Brien. "They have been fantastic servants throughout that time, most have been there every year," he added. What makes their commitment all the more noteworthy is that they have played all of their league football in Division 4 during that time.

"In the period since then, we've had a lot of difficult years where maybe the set-up wasn't what it should have been when our lads didn't commit," added O'Brien.

"We struggled in the league and we finished close to bottom a few times as well. But they stuck with it, they're model footballers and have been the backbone in those years. There is a lot of respect locally that they have been so committed to it with no return. There is a huge turnover among players in these divisions, probably among the rest of our panel there is that level of turnover too but those (nine) guys are there all the time," he said.

Division 2 (29) and Division 3 (31) come nowhere near the top-flight numbers either with Cavan, Meath, Derry, Roscommon and Armagh among the counties with the biggest turnovers in that seven-year period.

Some careers reach even further back. From the 140 who have a footprint in the 2010 championship, 22 can make claims to the 2005 championship too. Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey and Stephen Cluxton are out on their own for length of service in years but also still around are: Darran O'Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy (Kerry), Seán Armstrong (Galway), David Clarke, Keith Higgins, Andy Moran and Barry Moran (all Mayo), Colm Begley and Ross Munnelly (Laois), Eamonn Maguire (Fermanagh), Vinny Corey (Monaghan), Mark Lynch (Derry), Cavan's Seán Johnston and Cian Mackey (Cavan), Eamonn Callaghan (Kildare), Charlie Harrison (Sligo), Seánie McDermott (Roscommon) and James Stafford and Ciarán Hyland (Wicklow).

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