Derek McGrath claims there is “populist propaganda” driving the club versus county debate.
The former Waterford manager, who was previously in charge of De La Salle’s seniors and continues to be involved in his club, supports county players being permitted to link up with their panels during the exclusive club window, which ends September 14.
As clubs are permitted to return to contact training at all levels from today, McGrath believes there are advantages to players training with their counties during the period.
“I know people accuse me of being in the bubble of county for the five years,” he said in an interview on Abbeyside-Ballinacourty GAA’s Facebook page.
“You go up to our club, John Mullane is training the camogie team, Jake Dillon is training the minor team, the county lads at every element. I know in Ballygunner, the (county) lads are involved — Philip Mahony was involved in a three-in-a-row winning team.
“Everyone is involved in their own club and we all know that club is at the heart of the community and what we do — nobody is questioning that. But county players should be allowed train with their counties in a club window. Even once a week, video analysis, keeping the connection they have with their players and bringing the excellence they have back to their club set-ups.
“It’s too populist to say ‘it’s all about the club window’. I think there is kind of populist propaganda going on in those circles. In the years I was involved with Waterford, I’ve stood in dressing rooms where you’ve got a bit of momentum and they’re mad eager to keep it going. The opportunity to keep it going in terms of momentum or to work on things would be better if there was a split season as such.”
McGrath has previously outlined his ideas for split campaigns, where club players play league in the early summer months before championship in August to October. “It’s something I would have wanted myself as a club player and I don’t think that message is out there enough,” he said.
Also currently advising Laois’ minors and Faythe Harriers’ seniors in Wexford, McGrath has even proposed cross-county club leagues. More has to be done to incentivise clubs to play during the summer, he feels.
“I was on the Waterford panel from ‘94 to ‘98 and played club hurling from 1992 to 2012 — 21 years senior hurling. So I’m probably more in touch with the club scene that most and it’s been hard, believe it or not, over the years to get players up to the field during the summer when they’re saying the fields are empty during the summer.”
Also interviewed, Wexford manager and Sixmilebridge coach Davy Fitzgerald backed up McGrath’s point that neither’s priority is county. “If myself and Derek say anything, the first thing that’s going to be said is, ‘You’re backing county.’ That’s the first thing that’s going to be said.
“Like Derek, I played for my own club senior for 20, 21 years. I’ve managed every single team in my club from U14 to senior and intermediate. I’m training my club at the moment, I’ve trained clubs for the last 12 years as well as doing management at the same time.”
From his Sixmilebridge perspective, Fitzgerald is reasonably happy with how the season is structured, highlighting the importance of a strong league in Clare. Played from March to June in Clare, it involves nine round games as well as semi-finals and a final with county players returning for the games in April.
“We have a fantastic league system. There is a financial reward out of it, which makes it even better. My point is if we were to have our county players back for all the games how many fellas would be sitting on the sideline for the year? You’d have 10 or 11 fellas sitting on the sideline for the year. The five games I won’t have the county players for, which I’m more than happy as our club coach to do, I get to try out the other lads for those months.”
Combining the league and the championship which is played from August to October, the Clare club hurling scene comprises the guts of seven months, explains Fitzgerald. “And our county players are there for most of it.
“The county scene is National League in February and March, you get back to the clubs for April, then you have May, June and July — that’s five months. If you happen to get to August you’re one of two. So that’s five and a half months if you’re very lucky to six and a half, seven months for the club.
“It comes down to how bad is your county structure. How good is your league? If the league isn’t any good then it’s a disaster. There has to be two good competitions for the club players.”
Fitzgerald has come around to the idea of April being a designated club month. “I probably would not have agreed with it until I went to Wexford. I would have said I’d like to go straight through, but I’d actually tell you the truth that since I gave back the players and I don’t touch them for the month I found it no harm for them to go back for two, three, four weeks and then come back to me.
“We have probably trained from December or January hard and then we’ve league, I think to give them back to the clubs is refreshing.”