Billy Morgan: New fixture schedule will hurt club and college players

Billy Morgan: New fixture schedule will hurt club and college players
UCC manager Billy Morgan. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

AFTER a lifetime’s involvement with the GAA, both as a hugely successful player and equally successful manager, Billy Morgan believes that the powers that be are on a different page altogether with some of their decision-making.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Evening Echo, he outlines some of his grievances. Morgan has been the team boss of the UCC Sigerson Cup team for the past number of years and he believes that competition and the Fitzgibbon Cup in hurling are falling between two stools.

“Bringing the leagues forward to coincide with the Sigerson and the Fitzgibbon does not add up with me. The Central Council keep on banging the drum about player welfare and all that and the only thing that they are doing is making things worse. 

"Everything they are doing now is geared towards making money, the Super series 8 for instance and because of that, they are bringing things forward. Inter-county players trying to play the Sigerson and the Fitzgibbon and the league at the same time, it’s inevitable that injuries will occur and they did.

“I am not blaming the inter-county managers, they have to prepare for the league and then you had the genius who fixed the All-Ireland club football semi-final on the same weekend as the Sigerson final. It’s crazy, as I said it’s all about making money and getting Dublin into Croke Park as often as they can.”

Morgan believes too that the decision to set aside the month of April for club activity only is not realistic.

“I believe that is a joke, what do they expect the clubs to do in April? What will happen is that there will be a round played in that month and then it will go back out to the middle or late summer? They are totally out of touch up there. I mean changing the minor from U18 to U17 and the U21 to U20, what’s that about?.

“Most young fellows now are doing their Leaving Cert at 19. I know for a fact that there’s three or four of the Cork U20 football team, their first-round championship game is in the middle of the Leaving, now I don’t know whether they will play or not.

“And going back to my original point, when we played NUIG in the Sigerson, a lot of our players were playing their fifth game in under a fortnight. With that situation, it is inevitable that you will have injuries and on that day we had six absentees, four of them were injured."

UCC's Cian Kiely with Peter Cooke of NUIG. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
UCC's Cian Kiely with Peter Cooke of NUIG. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

So what is the solution to what is now becoming one of the talked about issues in the GAA, players being run off their feet?

“First of all, play the Sigerson a little bit earlier. Some people are suggesting that it should be played before Christmas. You could play it in January, early February, there’s plenty of time after that to start the leagues. I question some counties and some managers who have their teams training six months before a competition starts.

“The U20 competition does not start until June but I know that there are some who have been training for it since last November. Professional footballers, they start training six weeks before the season starts. County managers getting the players exclusively, they are killing the club game.

“The club scene is going to go the same way as the All-Ireland League in rugby, top players will be with the inter-county team and the clubs, tough luck. You don’t need all this much time.’’ 

So have inter-county managers today got too much power altogether? 

"Yes, I think so, some do, others are quite reasonable. Some managers, Mayo’s Stephen Rochford is one who has said that he will be training his players in April, the month we have been told is set aside for the clubs.”

The former All-Ireland winning captain believes too that the time has come to scrap pre-season competitions, like the McGrath Cup.

“I do think that. Look at the McGrath Cup this year for God’s sake, three teams in it. I think also that maybe the League and Championship could be changed. Most competitions in other sports are decided on a league format. Maybe the national league and the All-Ireland championship could be joined together in some format and start it later. 

"The Super 8 is designed to make money and the stronger will only get stronger — it’s no good for the weaker counties. Possibly there should be an All-Ireland B competition for the teams knocked out early and give them meaningful competition.”

Turning to Cork, Morgan believes that there is room for optimism.

“I think that they are much better organised than they were. You must remember that in the games they have played in the league so far they have been without the Nemo players, Sean Powter, Aidan Walsh and James Loughrey, that’s half a team.

“But they seem to be better prepared, they are training well, I would be hopeful of a good year ahead.’’

And on the national front?

“Dublin are a great team, but in the last few All-Irelands, they have beaten Mayo by just a point. Kerry, back in the ‘70s, were wiping the floor with every team, they are only getting over the line. They are the best team, you can’t argue that but we’ll see.”

Dark horses?

“I have been impressed with Donegal. I know they lost their three opening games but they could have beaten Kerry and ran Dublin close. They are much more attractive to watch now than they used to be. Kerry have some very good, young players coming and if they can blend them in with the older fellows, Donaghy, Darran O’Sullivan, David Moran, Anthony Maher.

“Kerry will always be there and I would be quite hopeful that Cork might too.’’

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