Higher Education GAA chairman says moving competitions before Christmas would devalue them

Colm O’Rourke complained that playing Sigerson and Fitzgibbon alongside leagues is an ’abuse of players’

The chairman of Higher Education GAA, Mike Hyland, believes relocating the third-level championships prior to Christmas would only serve to devalue the competitions.

Hyland was speaking in response to comments made by Meath manager Colm O’Rourke, who on Sunday claimed playing the National Leagues simultaneously alongside the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups was reckless.

“The timing of the Sigerson is all wrong,” commented O’Rourke. “We have six players tied up in it and we had to take off five of them today. There’s two of them now injured with hamstrings. They’re pure overuse injuries. It’s a disgrace, it’s abuse of players and it shouldn’t be going on at this time.”

Finding a suitable place in the calendar for the third-level competitions has long proven to be a puzzle without an agreeable solution for the GAA. But Hyland feels there is no need to be haphazardly shuffling pieces of the jigsaw.


“I have no doubt they are in the only date they realistically can be in for them to be meaningful competitions for the players and for the colleges,” remarked Hyland.

“People are only back to college in late September, we play our leagues in October and November. The vast majority of colleges have exams before Christmas, there are a few have them after, but most are before Christmas.

“That gives you the first six weeks of the new year then for students to play Sigerson, Fitzgibbon, Ryan and Trench Cup.

“If you bring them before Christmas, it doesn’t really stack up for me, you are devaluing the competitions so much. And there would be no league played either, because you are not going to play league after championship.”

The counter-argument is by playing the competitions before Christmas it would provide them more scope for media attention and TV coverage, in turn garnering greater public interest as they would not be competing for eyes against intercounty games.

However, Hyland believes there would be an even more significant crossover of players still involved with clubs at that time and stresses the GAA also need to be cognisant of the role colleges play in promoting the games, enjoying a platform other sports organisations would love to be granted.

“Colleges have invested massive amounts in scholarships and also a huge amount in facilities for GAA,” added Hyland. “If you take it that there are two semesters, you really need to be playing GAA in those two semesters for it to be worthwhile for the colleges and for the players themselves.”

O’Rourke’s gripe arose after two of his players – Mathew Costello and Shane Walsh – picked up injuries. Costello suffered a hamstring injury playing for DCU against MTU Cork last Tuesday while Walsh, who is also with DCU, had to come off with a similar injury during the first half of Meath’s win over Clare last Sunday.

“I just think it’s an absolute disgrace what is happening with these players, the best of young players,” stated O’Rourke.

“The GAA talk about player welfare – this is the ultimate in player abuse.”

It is a storm that tends to get whipped up annually at this time of year, as county managers express frustration at the scheduling, usually after losing a player or two to injury.

“I wouldn’t say disappointed, it’s not the first time it has been said and realistically it probably won’t be the last,” said Hyland when asked about O’Rourke’s comments.

“Unfortunately, at this time of the year injuries are commonplace but not just amongst students. I’m from Galway and sadly we saw Damien Comer pick up an injury last weekend.

“Intercounty managers are obviously under a lot of pressure, particularly in Division Two and Three now where their Sam Maguire participation will depend upon their league.

“But once the lines of communications are kept open between county managers and college managers, it generally works very well. These players do no training worth talking about for their colleges, they are literally playing games and doing an odd walk-through during the week.”

Hyland argues that if you take the emotion out of it and examine the situation practically, then the disruption to intercounty set-ups is minimal.

“The time it takes up is very small,” he continued. “For the first round of the National League, you are talking eight teams left in the Sigerson, by the second round you are down to four. After Wednesday night that will be down to two.

“College is a really short time in your life, but it’s a very important time for people, a very formative time. I think it is important they are given the chance to play these games for their colleges.”

The Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup semi-finals take place at Netwatch Cullen Park on Wednesday: DCU v UL at 6.15 and TU Dublin v UCC at 8.0. Both games will be streamed live on TG4′s YouTube channel.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times