Saturday 21 April 2018

'More players will be lost without change' - Magee

Wicklow boss Johnny Magee. Photo: Sportsfile
Wicklow boss Johnny Magee. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Twelve months ago Wicklow boss Johnny Magee was beating the drum about their lack of championship opportunities in the hope of effecting change and getting more meaningful games, but amazingly the plight for weaker counties has gotten worse.

Last season Magee asked 'how long is it going to continue?' but with the Super 8 set to be introduced next year, things are going to get an awful lot worse before they get better for those struggling to compete with the elite.

Competitive games are the barometer by which progress is gauged but Wicklow, and other minnows like Carlow and Waterford, are falling well short of top-tier counties like Dublin in this regard, and are set to lag further under new championship structures.

Since 2001, Wicklow have averaged just 2.8 championship games each year with their six games under Mick O'Dwyer's charge in 2009, an asterisk on a string of summers resembling a wasteland in the Garden.

Others like Waterford (2.12 games per year), Carlow (2.5 games) and last year's All-Ireland quarter-finalists Clare (2.8 games) pale in comparison to Dublin's figures (5.6 per year) with four games the least they have played in any single year.

Having played for the Dubs, Magee is in the perfect position to make comparisons between the best and the rest and as he digested their narrow Leinster SFC defeat to Louth, his frustration at the disconnect between policy-makers and players was obvious.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

"The likelihood is there will be more players lost, let's be realistic. Before the Super 8 other counties like ourselves are losing players. If they had came with something along with the Super 8, at least you'd have something to work with, but they didn't," he said.

"It's just banging a drum for nothing. At what stage can players keep putting themselves out there before a massive exodus? I admire the GAA people of Wicklow hugely because there's no guarantee of more than two games for them.

"They come to training and do what they're told, they're a good footballing side and we just need to get more games at that level to bring the fellas on so that when the opportunity is there to win the game, they've been in that pressure situation before."

In five championship games during his three-year reign, Magee has handed out over 20 debuts as player turnover hits a staggering rate. With little competitive incentive on offer to represent your county at that level, it's hardly a surprise.

"I don't get to see them for four months so all the work that you put in and the game plans and the skill levels, when you come back in November it's a long break, whereas the top teams only have six or eight weeks turnaround and they're up to speed," Magee said.

"Some players say 'what's the point?', 'what's going on?'. I've lost players during the league saying they're not enjoying it, 'what's the point with two games in summer?'. Some fellas are saying 'I'm going away in the summer on a J1'. Not just Wicklow, it's other counties as well and it's worrying."

While tiered competitions like the Tommy Murphy Cup have been tried, and failed, the gap between genuine All-Ireland contenders and also-rans, who often have their wings clipped before July, will continue to expand until they are catered for accordingly with a marketable championship against counties of similar standard.

The ratio of training to games for inter-county players who don't match up against the big-hitters, particularly among a host of Division 4 sides, is abysmal and players have a growing desire for games. The rich are getting richer with ample opportunity for development, and without meaningful competition it will quickly become impossible for the poor to compete.

Irish Independent

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