For college and county: players anticipate fixture clashes

The pressure of playing for college and county can be daunting for affected players

The draws made for the 2018 third-level competitions in Croke Park on Thursday are reminders of the challenging year ahead for GAA fixtures.

Whereas the abolition of the under-21 football championship has created some space for the colleges – enabling the Freshers competition to take place later – the earlier running of the national leagues means there is little room for manoeuvre in the main competitions, the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups.

"In fairness to the CCCC [Croke Park's fixture committee]," according to Gerry Tully, chair of the GAA's higher-level committee, "the Fitzgibbon was to be a fortnight earlier and we put in a request to have it put back and they acceded to that. We asked purely on an exams basis because the one thing we can't compromise on is exams. That's Comahirle Árd-Oideachais's position on it and the first day we can go is January 21st."

For inter-county players, the pressure of playing for college and county can be daunting.


"It's fairly intense that time of year when you're playing Fitzgibbon and league," says Waterford's Colin Dunford, who also plays for IT Carlow. "You have a game midweek and then again at the weekend. There's good communication between the Carlow and Waterford managers so we're not overtrained and we're primed for the games, which is good."

He expects to be involved with both teams as the spring unfolds but knows that panel depth is going to have to be developed in the light of the new round-robin championship structure.

“It’s going to come down to squads, especially with us, because we have so many players involved in both [county and college]. Hopefully, I’ll get a few runs this year and get a good run going.

“We’re out four weeks in a row in the championship so if we’re getting injuries there you’re going to have to use your squad. The Fitzgibbon and the league at the same time will come down to using the squad and who are available.

“Maybe it’s not [ideal] but you have at your disposal there 33, 34 players and there’s a good chunk of lads not in college. It’s hard on lads involved in both [Fitzgibbon and inter-county] but you just have to get on with it at the end of the day.”

Accommodating manager

Wexford goalkeeper Mark Fanning is involved with Waterford IT. He says county manager Davy Fitzgerald, who also has Fitzgibbon commitments with Limerick IT, is accommodating.

“We’re actually lucky because our manager with the college [Páraic Fanning] is actually Davy’s selector with Wexford. Hopefully it’ll work well from my point of view. PJ Ryan is involved as well; he’s the goalkeeping coach with Wexford and is involved with the college, too. Obviously there’s talk of playing Fitzgibbon Cup games on Sunday and such, which is far from ideal.

“Is this going to bring up the college versus county row? For some lads – like, I won’t have that problem – but I imagine certain lads will. You don’t want to be making things hard for lads.”

Another issue that may create problems is the coincidence of the Sigerson final with the All-Ireland club championships on February 17th. This already happened earlier in 2017 when Dublin hurling champions Cuala had a clash between their All-Ireland semi-final and the Fitzgibbon finals weekend, which cost UCD a number of players.

That was an unintended clash, as Derry and Ulster champions Slaughtneil were granted an additional week between football and hurling semi-finals in recognition of their status as dual provincial champions.

“It’s an unfortunate clash with the All-Ireland,” said Tully, “but it has happened before and of course Slaughtneil are back as dual champions again so we’ll also have to see how that works out.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times