Friday 20 April 2018

Clubs suffer from being in shadow of county team

Legends see the need for a better balance, writes Marie Crowe

Jimmy Barry-Murphy may have won four All-Ireland club finals with St Finbarr's -- two hurling and two football -- but the final he will never forget is the one he lost in 1981.

That year, St Finbarr's won the double in Cork, an amazing feat in itself, but then both sides continued their run of success by reaching the All-Ireland finals. First up was the football, when they beat Walterstown of Meath. The hurling final, against Ballyhale Shamrocks, came a few weeks later, and the Kilkenny side proved too strong, denying the Cork club an historic double.

"Back then it was a very demanding time for all involved, but there wasn't the same focus on the inter-county hurling and football," says Barry-Murphy of his dual exploits for club and county. "There was no back door system then which I think has been detrimental for clubs since it was introduced. In fact, I'd go as far to say it has really killed the club scene in a lot of counties."

Although most club teams have been back training since early January, and many county championship draws were made last week, there are some counties who won't play their first round until August.

"The club scene has changed a lot, especially in the ten years since I was involved coaching Cork. The county has taken over completely and club players are very, very annoyed about it and I know that from being involved myself. Players don't know when they are going to be playing, they have no set schedule, they can't book family holidays and I believe club hurling and football is suffering big time as a result."

Former Cork football manager and player Billy Morgan agrees. He believes the club should come first and that striking a balance between both is a realistic possibility. Morgan won All-Ireland titles for club and county and he sees first hand the effect county commitments are having on clubs.

"Some counties are pushing aside the club championships so that county teams can train better or have more time for preparation," said Morgan. "Here in Cork there is a situation where the county championships are due to start and there are young fellas missing out on up to three rounds because they have to do the Leaving Cert. It's basically planned that way to give the county team a free run in July."

In 1976, Dublin's Brian Mullins won two All-Irelands, with his club St Vincent's and his county. He knows how hard it is to juggle club and county commitments.

"Back then the relationship with the county was fraught with difficulties because you had to serve a fair few masters," he says. "There had to be a lot of co-ordination and a lot of goodwill with the group of us who were on the county panel. It will always be a source of discussion and debate. The GAA is based on players playing for clubs and then being selected for their counties."

Morgan believes better planning is the answer. He also thinks that two to three weeks is enough time for inter-county players to be exclusively training with their counties. Jimmy Barry-Murphy agrees.

"Three weeks before an All-Ireland final and two before a provincial final is loads of time," said Barry-Murphy. "I think inter-county players are too protected with their break times before the big games; they get too much time and too much leeway. But I also think extra-time should be played in all games, there is no need for replays. And in fairness to clubs there will have to be a set schedule for games so everyone knows exactly when they are playing."

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