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14th Oct 2016

#TheToughest Issue: If you go away for the summer, should your club welcome you back for championship?

Conan Doherty


We’re not all Zach Tuohys.

The AFL man is back in Laois and he’s back for this weekend to line out for Portlaoise in the county final again. Of course, that brings with it whinges and moans – he’s a professional, he shouldn’t be allowed to play, that type of thing.

But he’s a pretty superstar exception, mind you.

Every summer, club players disappear. Some of them go on holidays, some of them go to America, inter-railing, whatever. Some of them start a job elsewhere and won’t commit to the schedule until it really counts.

The question is, should these guys be welcomed back into the squad after the summer? Should they be welcomed back for championship?

Conor Heneghan says: YES.

One of the great things about being a GAA fan is that there are very few periods of inactivity in the calendar; if you want to watch a match, either in the flesh or on television, you’re pretty much catered for all year round.

At the moment, for example, less than a fortnight after the dust has settled on another All-Ireland Championship campaign, we’re at the height of club championship season. This weekend alone, there are 18 senior county finals taking place. 18!


Catching up on county and provincial club finals throughout the country, in both codes, is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon and all credit to TG4 for the amazing service they provide.

While it’s great for the casual fan, however, the real reason why there’s such an amount of club action at this time of year is because the vast majority of club players are left sitting idle during the summer.

At the end of the day, inter-county is king and in a three month period where the weather is most conducive to both codes and college students are more available than at any other time in the year, club players, depending on the county, might not play a single Championship game.

Then, when the inter-county season is all over, they’re faced with the prospect of packing an entire Championship campaign into a period of a few weeks.

Such a situation might only apply to counties who are involved in the latter stages of the All-Ireland Championship but it’s still entirely unfair.

The hectic nature of the schedule and the declining quality of pitches mean that the risk of injury is greater and even a minor injury could lead to a player missing two or three of the most important games of the season. The same player might have played five or six league games in the space of six months before that.

Enough arguments have been made for club football to have a defined, untouchable place in the GAA calendar, but with all of the above in mind and with so much uncertainty surrounding the club season, how could you begrudge a club player going away for the summer if the opportunity arose?

Plenty of them will be good enough to be offered the chance to play at a very high standard in some of the biggest cities in the US, for example, and to earn a few quid while they’re at it.

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance? They might even come back all the better for having broadened their horizons and playing against completely different opposition in a completely different environment.

Others might go on a J1 without playing any GAA at all. Others might go inter-railing or on a journey of discovery through South America or south-east Asia, collecting stories that will breathe life and laughter into cold dressing rooms on their return.


If these guys come home, eligible to play, good enough to make the team and are as committed as the team-mates they left behind for a couple of months, then why should they be shunned?

The level of commitment required and the level of uncertainty surrounding the calendar is already enough to discourage plenty of club players; let’s not come up with another reason to scare them away.

Conán Doherty says: NO.

Boys can do what they like, that’s fine. Go travelling, go have fun, go live a life, great. But what’s the point in the rest of the lads training all year if you obviously don’t have to?

If a team sees players getting away with pissing off for the summer only to have the red carpet laid down on their return, what message does that send? Why would they bother putting the work in for the summer?

You have to create a culture at a club and it can’t be one where you can do what you like, get away with being absent and not training, and still get picked. What’s the old underage cliché? If you don’t train, you won’t play.

Listen, some people have racked up enough air miles throughout their career that they’re owed a little slack. Older players might not return until the start of the summer before they start moving through the gears but there should be leeway there especially when they’re coming back for when the real work is starting.

You can’t be showing up weeks before the championship and expect to be part of the panel, no matter who you are. How can a club, never mind a team, sustain that?

To win championships, you have to draw a line. Yes, if you’re going to be successful, you hope that all your best players will get over that line and you might even want to help some of them on their way too – after all, to treat everyone equally, treat them differently.

But that line of principles and culture cannot start veering. If anyone falls short of what is expected of them and falls short of the line, then it’s only going to be worse for the whole group dynamic if they’re still being pandered to.

You’re not throwing these boys out of the club. They can play reserves and they can play for you next year. If they do what they’re told.

Now, everyone knows where they stand. Now, everyone knows what is required to get on the championship team.

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