UCD and Westmeath footballer Ray Connellan has criticised Kerry manager Jack O'Connor for fielding two players, Tony Brosnan and Jack Savage, in Wednesday's McGrath Cup, just hours after they had helped MTU Kerry to victory over UCD in the Sigerson Cup.
Connellan, who was outstanding for UCD and kicked 0-4 from play in the defeat, described the decision to field the players as “a bit brain dead on the part of management”.
“I know he’s not a nailed-on starter but Tony is a quality footballer. All Jack O’Connor would have had to do is send someone down to look at that [Sigerson] game. He stuck out like a sore thumb in terms of how good he was . . . “It’s January. Who is that benefiting? Is that really benefiting Tony come June, July, August leading into where Kerry are aiming to be? I don’t think it is. The same with Jack Savage, these are young players that need to be looked after.”
O'Connor, however, had said after the match, an easy win over Tipperary, that he didn't request the players to attend, which involved travelling from Tralee to Templetouhy. They were though named in the match-day panel.
“Tony and Jack were tremendous. I didn’t ask them to come up at all. They wanted to be involved. They volunteered themselves. That is great to see because those lads are mad to get every minute they can in a Kerry jersey, which is great.”
Both came on for the last 14 minutes.
He also endorsed the views of his Cork counterpart that the McGrath Cup final between the counties should be pushed back a week from this Saturday.
"Keith Ricken is right, there is a lot of pressure on young lads with colleges fixtures and all that. The postponement will give a few more lads the opportunity to be involved in the final,"
Expanding on the theme of player welfare, Connellan drew on his experiences as an Australian Rules footballer with St Kilda and his friendship with Leinster rugby players.
"I remember moving out to Australia and the biggest thing for young guys going out there was load management. Every first- and second-year player, they probably only do 75 per cent of the total pre-season training because they're not used to it.
“If the lads are going off doing a massive running block, you might do a bike session because it balances your load and you don’t get injured.
"I would be friends with Rob Henshaw, the international rugby player, and with his IRFU contract, player welfare guidelines mean that when he comes home and if Leinster have a heavy run of games, it is in his contract that he may have to sit out a couple of those games."
He suggests that rather than ring-fence players for college teams, the number of minutes anyone can play during busy times of the year, like January, be capped.
"I think that is where player welfare has to be and organisations like the GPA should take a pretty strong stand here now in terms of looking after the players because this time of the year you might have two games a week and that can be fine but there needs to be something in place regarding the number of minutes a player plays and if a team breaches that they should be penalised."
UCD’s defeat had been unexpected but Connellan says that they learned enough to improve for the losers’ round.
“It’s given us a pretty good perspective on a couple of weaknesses . . . which is fine and it’s good that you’ve got a match next week, straight away because you can go away, watch yesterday’s game back and see a couple of little work-ons.”
Speaking about the prospect of Irish players heading to Australia in the future he cautions to be aware that they are “putting life on hold”.
“Like, I know I’m still in UCD now and I’m sure I’d be finished college and [be] working at this stage because all of my peers are. That’s something that I sometimes would regret in a way . . . so that can be a bit frustrating and something that guys maybe have to weigh up as well.”
Ray Connellan was speaking at a virtual media briefing to promote the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup.