Dave Billings says Sigerson restrictions are unnecessary

Experienced UCD officer says that under-21 championship and league schedules can be tweaked to ease pressure on young players

Progress can be made in easing the burden on young players without banning them from representing their colleges, according to Dave Billings, the vastly experienced UCD development officer who also served as a Dublin selector for most of the last decade (the 2000s).

His comments are in the context of the current debate about the logjam of football fixtures at this time of the year, which has led to calls for intercounty players to be excluded from Sigerson Cup activity.

Billings, however, has other ideas to address the simultaneous running of the national league, the under-21 football intercounty championship and the third-level competitions. He says that the landscape has changed radically.

“Competitions have got bigger in number and training schedules have changed dramatically from Tuesday and a match on Sunday. Weight training isn’t counted as collective training in a lot of places. Being on the pitch twice a week doesn’t mean you weren’t in the gym five times.

“First the under-21 football should happen later in the year like the hurling. This argument that you can’t play the football because fellas want to go to America doesn’t hold up because hurlers want to go away as well. You play it on Wednesday nights. If the first round took place in early May there’d be only 16 counties left to play off throughout the summer.”

He also believes that the league could be pushed back to minimise the conflict between senior intercounty fixtures and the third-level colleges’ tournaments.

‘No appetite’

“The national league starts on the weekends of 31st January and 6th February and there’s not another match for three weeks. I’m saying hold the football league until around the 20th February and you’ve the club semi-finals out of the way by then and the Sigerson ends that weekend.

“I’m leaving the Fitzgibbon out of this for the moment, as the difficulties there aren’t as immediate but play the Sigerson in four groups of four with the winners going forward to the final weekend. That would take four or five weeks.

"Ideally I'd spread it over an extra week and play the final as well as the others, like the Trench Cup, in Croke Park on a Wednesday evening but there's no appetite to get rid of the weekends.

“I’d withdraw the colleges from the O’Byrne Cup et cetera and the pay-off would be that the counties would leave the players with the colleges for the duration of the Sigerson.”

Billings believes that the additional time for the league could be created by tweaking the championship schedules to defer the opening to the end of May, which he says can be achieved by asking provinces to schedule more double-headers in their championship fixture schedules.

Current survey

“There’s three weeks between the end of the league and the championship apart from the New York match and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t look at pushing the championship out until the end of May.”

The issue of the pressures on third-level students playing football is the subject of a current survey being conducted by the Gaelic Players Association, which hopes to publish its findings in the coming weeks.

Elsewhere, Donegal All-Ireland winner Rory Kavanagh has announced his retirement from intercounty football. A member of Jim McGuinness's successful panel in 2012, Kavanagh enjoyed a 14-season career with the county during which he also won three Ulster medals in 2011, ' 12 and '14 as well as an NFL medal in the county's first league title, in 2007.

A centrefielder and wing forward, he captained Donegal against Cavan in their first match of the triumphant 2012 campaign – his 100th appearance for the county – in the absence of the injured Michael Murphy and started both last year's All-Ireland final against Kerry as well as the sensational semi-final defeat of champions Dublin. He also won six county medals with his club, St Eunan's of Letterkenny.

Finally, the widely experienced Aidan O’Rourke has been announced as the new Armagh minor manager. Up to last year, manager of Louth, O’Rourke is an All-Ireland medallist from Armagh’s 2002 victory and also assisted James McCartan in Down and Kieran McGeeney in Kildare.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times