By Cahair O'Kane
JOHN Allen says he hasn’t got the ‘win at all costs’ mentality that embodies county managers.
The former Cork and Limerick hurling manager stepped down from the Treaty job last August despite the fact that he had taken them to a first Munster title in 17 years, and had done it within two years of taking the post.
Speaking during the week, Allen admitted that you need “a certain madness” to be an inter-county manager. “I am not sure if I have that madness inside me,” admitted the man who won two provincials and an All-Ireland with Cork.
The debate on the GAA’s growing win at all costs lends itself nicely into the McKenna Cup debate, and whether the universities have a future in the competition.
They should have. Anyone thinking reasonably and logically about it sees that the universities have brought a bit of spark to it since they came in early in the 2000s.
Queen’s, St. Mary’s and, more recently, UUJ have lost the majority of games they have played in the competition, but at times they have been competitive. For them, managing a level of competitiveness against inter-county teams weeks before they embark on their Sigerson Cup campaign is a huge morale boost.
In an email sent to all counties before the start of this year’s McKenna Cup, Ulster Council sounded unequivocal.
“Some years ago, the Ulster Council allowed universities to enter the competition. This allows our universities to prepare for the Sigerson Cup which commences immediately afterwards and to offer fresh competition to counties.
“Counties also benefit from the extra game time and the opportunity to view new players prior to the National Football League. The Ulster Council has repeatedly welcomed the addition of universities to the competition.
“For the universities to be competitive, they need to be allowed to play their Sigerson Cup panels. The format of allowing universities to compete has been so successful that all other provinces now follow suit.
“The Ulster Council control the competition and apply the regulations. Universities do not have the panel strengths to compete unless they are allowed to play with their full Sigerson panels. Universities are not allowed to play first year students on the Sigerson team.
“In the spirit of the GAA, the progress of those players who are selected to play for their college in this competition and who are deemed to be suitable for the county team, should not be hindered. In most instances, counties have been accommodating in the above and it is the wish of the Ulster Council for this to continue,” the email said.
Attached to the foot of the email was the competition’s ten regulations. They were less unequivocal. Regulation 1 states that university teams have first preference on players.
Regulation 3 stated that a mediator would be appointed to facilitate dialogue in the event of a dispute. If the first regulation was applied, surely there would be no need for the third?
Despite the fact that Ulster Council brought in a rule that stipulated quite clearly, quite emphatically, that universities were to be given first preference when there was a clash of interests for players, the governing body has been ignored.
The ordinary nine-tenths questions this, bitterly. And rightly. Journalists question it, players question it, other managers question it. Why is it that Tyrone are able to ride rough-shod over the university teams and do as they please?
No-one quite understands why Ulster Council don’t stand up to Mickey Harte’s decision to ignore the ruling and call on players who should be playing for their university in the McKenna Cup.
Mattie Donnelly, Ronan O'Neill, Barry Tierney and Conor McAliskey (all UUJ), Conor Clarke, Danny McBride and Niall Morgan (St. Mary's) and Niall McKenna (Queen's) were all included in the squad named by the long-serving Tyrone manager before the competition started.
The problem was quite easily solved. Ulster Council appointed Joe Kernan as a mediator, basically to try and talk Mickey Harte down. Some viewed that as a cop out. Others viewed it at the time as a final warning for the Red Hands.
It didn’t materialise that way. When Kernan reported back that an agreement could not be found, there should only have been one course of action for those running the competition. Tyrone should have been expelled.
Indeed, the same applies to Armagh and Monaghan. Paul Grimley, having promised in December that the players affected would be released to their respective universities, then informed two of them that they couldn’t play for Queen’s against the Orchard men in the opening game.
It was a marginally lesser offence given the fact that the players were then allowed to continue their McKenna Cup campaign with their university. Perhaps you could forgive Grimley in a sense.
Monaghan’s crime was far worse. Malachy O’Rourke knows what Kieran Hughes is about, knows what he’s capable of. He had no call to pull him out of the Jordanstown team to play him at midfield against Derry.
When managers complain that they need to see these players in action in order to judge them ahead of the National League, you wonder at the sense of it as well. Grimley could have seen Rory Grugan and Aaron Findon in action against his own charges, but will instead have gone through the McKenna Cup without seeing them at all.
That is the crux of Mickey Harte’s argument, that he needs and wants to see the players in the Tyrone jersey so that he can have a look at them.
And with the growing competitiveness of the National League, with the win at all costs mentality enveloping it now too, Tyrone feel that their players need to be ‘integrated’ into the squad before the league.
No harm to Tyrone, but every other county is able to abide by the rules. In this era of 26-man management teams, there are enough men who could be sent to watch the players who are university tied if they are that keen on it. If not, there are always newspaper reports, or occasionally videos.
Perhaps best of all is the phone number of the men who are in charge of the universities. Knowing Adrian McGuckin, I’m sure he wouldn’t have refused a phone call from the Tyrone manager enquiring about how his four players got on in a game. Nor would Paddy Tally, or Queen’s manager Anthony McGrath.
If there was a fear on Ulster Council’s behalf the competition might fall apart around them if they expelled Tyrone, there needn’t have been. The Red Hands need the competition more than the competition needs them.
They would soon go back on their position if they were being left as the only county in Ireland going into the National League without a single pre-season game under their belt. With the O’Byrne Cup, McGrath Cup and FBD League all ongoing, there would be little opportunity for challenge games in a period where counties are concentrating on the hard slog.
You can only win if they let you play.
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