Tuesday 20 February 2018

'Players are not allowed to think for themselves' Duignan slams 'controlling managers'

Tony Kelly of Clare in action. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Tony Kelly of Clare in action. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
All-Ireland winners Michael Duignan (Offaly) and Brian McGuigan (Tyrone) were in Croke Park yesterday for the launch of this year’s Bord Gáis Legends Tour Seriestight. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Having played through the golden age of hurling during the '90s Michael Duignan "doesn't see the point" of sweepers and defensive systems and believes many of the game's current greats are being "controlled by management teams".

The summer is nearly at the provincial final stage but the hurling Championship is yet to catch light after a series of underwhelming contests, and the former All-Star is worried about the direction the game is going in.

Seeing quality players like former Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly (pictured) foraging in defence "doesn't make any sense" to Offaly legend Duignan, and he questions how teams expect to win All-Ireland honours when employing such tactics.

He apportions the bulk of the blame for the current malaise in the game to managers ruling with an iron fist and placing unrealistic demands on players, who he feels have become nothing more than "commodities".

"It's just a control thing from management teams over great players. They're not allowed think for themselves now on the field or do anything off the field. Where are we going with the game? And how are we allowing it to happen?" he said.

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"Players might feel that they're part of it, especially in the top counties when they're being well looked after, but look what's expected of them. How does it make sense to have players training 25 times in a month from a sports science point of view? Or from any point of view?

"From a life balance point of view? You hear stories about players asking for a night off from training because of work commitments and that being held against them. That's madness.

"How are you going to win with a whole lot of players who are all being corralled the one way? I just think it's counter-productive for the coaches that are doing it. And I think it's completely wrong that the players are being used in that way."

In contrast, Duignan admires the life/sport balance and "independent thinking" fostered by Brian Cody in Kilkenny and feels their remarkable performances since the turn of the Millennium are reflective of that.


"Management teams are out of control" in the view of the two-time All-Ireland winner, who was as impressed as ever with the "hunger and harrying" of the Cats against Dublin at the weekend and feels they are still the team to beat.

"Dublin came with a very physical challenge but after 20 minutes they were burnt out. It shows just how strong and fit Kilkenny are. They're operating out of a small enough group but that group are able to hold it together," The Sunday Game pundit said.

"Until they're beaten they have to be favourites because they just know how to win games, and they have this pattern that's emerging, they're in tight games and then they pull away after half-time."

Tyrone great Brian McGuigan also believes that the joy has been squeezed out of Gaelic football as teams strive for an extra edge and are willing to make extreme sacrifices to help increase their chance for silverware.

While chatting with his former team-mate Sean Cavanagh, McGuigan realised just how much the game has changed and he admits he'd struggle in the current era, especially given his penchant for a curry or a Chinese on the eve of crunch games and a few sociable drinks after Championship bouts.

"One thing we always prided ourselves on was that after we played matches we always liked to go for a drink, after a good Championship match, and Sean says that doesn't happen now," he said yesterday.

"It's back to recovery and into the pool session and going home. Like, there's no spirit at all. Even on the bus, we always would have had great craic, now everyone has their headphones on and there's no talking or communicating at all. So I think the fun has gone out of it but if you want to keep up with the best I suppose that's what you have to do."

Attending a function with a handful of current Tyrone players last Saturday night opened McGuigan's eyes to changes in focus of inter-county players.

"Even what they're eating and drinking at these events is different, it's as if football is everything," he said

"They were just sipping away at the water and maybe had their own water bottles with them. When the food was set out on the table they weren't eating it, they must have had their prep food with them or already in them."

The physical transformation which the Red Hand have made impresses McGuigan and with the emergence of Ronan O'Neill as one of the top forwards in the country, he feels they are edging closer to their fourth Sam Maguire under manager Mickey Harte.

"Tyrone don't need the firepower up front because they get so many scores from their half-backs, midfield and half-forwards but Ronan O'Neill has promised so much since he was 16 and he is starting to deliver now, that's a big advantage," said McGuigan.

"I would have said two years ago that Tyrone had gone stale, didn't have the conveyor belt coming through, that Mickey needed to find his voice. How he does it I don't know."

Irish Independent

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