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It should not take a pandemic for clubs to come first - Dempsey 

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Luke Dempsey is in charge of Johnstownbridge in Kildare but first has a schools final with St Joseph’s of Rochfortbridge. Photo: Sportsfile

Luke Dempsey is in charge of Johnstownbridge in Kildare but first has a schools final with St Joseph’s of Rochfortbridge. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Luke Dempsey is in charge of Johnstownbridge in Kildare but first has a schools final with St Joseph’s of Rochfortbridge. Photo: Sportsfile

Luke Dempsey has seen it all throughout his managerial career, but he acknowledges that it took a global health crisis for club bosses like himself to have any type of regular access to inter-county players. 

Dempsey has been a mainstay on the club scene for years - with recent successes under his belt taking charge of Mullingar side St Loman's and Kildare club Moorefield - and is never short of a word or two when he feels injustice has been served.

All too often, the plight of the club player is top of his agenda.

While quick to compliment the GAA over their handling of return-to-play protocols and putting people's safety before training and games, the former Westmeath and Carlow boss believes the return of the club game before inter-county action raises many questions which the GAA must quickly address.

As Johnstownbridge manager this year, Dempsey is delighted to have access to the Kildare contingent with the Cribbin brothers, Keith and Paul, as well as Daniel Flynn, available to him as Jack O'Connor's county squad is put on the back burner, but that is a rarity in a normal season.

Club managers the length and breadth of the country are regularly pulling their hair out as they must forge ahead without their top players for long periods and Dempsey, an All-Ireland U-21-winning manager with Westmeath in 1999, feels that enough is enough.

"It opens up the bigger question about how clubs are functioning without their county players apart from this year. It really is difficult when a club is dependent on their county players that there's such demands on them," Dempsey said.

"They are under so much pressure from their inter-county managers, of which I was one for years, to always be with the county. That's the positive, the GAA got it right by going back to the communities first and the county second.

"They (the GAA) don't learn unfortunately, though. The shop window is the inter-county and this unusual season has happened through a freak of a pandemic that the club players became accessible, albeit there was pressure for inter-county managers to get them.

"That was nicely nipped in the bud, there was a strong and positive reaction that inter-county managers were told to step back until your time comes around because they really did try it on in lots of counties."

Dempsey will be a busy man this weekend as he leads St Joseph's Rochfortbridge in their pursuit of a first Leinster Colleges 'A' football title against reigning champions Naas CBS on Friday afternoon before returning to the sideline the next day for a league tie in Kildare.

It's a novelty to have everyone available to choose from for once as he rubbishes the idea that April is a club month and calls for meaningful change to start prioritising clubs in the grander scheme of the GAA.

No one can convince him otherwise about the gross imbalances between club and county and he calls for this season to become more like the norm with county players afforded greater freedom to don their club colours where possible. "The ruling about April that it was meant to be for club players only was a farce.

"That was never put into practice, the inter-county manager was still able to take players for parts of the month pretending that they weren't and nothing was done about it," Dempsey said.

"So unless there's a genuine and forceful effort to implement what they decide to do with regards to the betterment of the clubs in terms of having their county players, things won't change once this thing ends.

"Up until mid-July or early August, some clubs have had to take outrageous beatings, hammerings in the league and have their county players coming on these little cameo appearances and sometimes they would appear and have a little twinge on their hamstring and not play for their club.

"There is always that type of thing going on and the positive of the pandemic is that for the first time the club can see their county players and develop a game-plan much better. Unless the GAA change the system and implement it, I can't see there being a change at all unfortunately."

Irish Independent