Colleges chair Mallie hits back in Sigerson row

THE country’s top colleges GAA official has blasted claims that the timing of third-level competitions are the primary sources of burnout in football and hurling.

At the recent National Football League launch, Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney questioned the need for a blanket ban on inter-county training during November and December, claiming that “the players we’re trying to protect most, are still out with the colleges anyway. I’d be more into proper education about how to use the off-season”.

His comments were echoed by Galway manager Joe Kernan who noted: “Everything is very compressed into January, and this week, one of our students did seven days in a row, which I think is totally unfair.”

Yesterday, Higher Education chairman Michael Mallie hit back and vowed that the competitions would continue to run in their current slot in the fixture calendar and added that the winter inter-county training ban had been a “tremendous advantage” to the grade.

“I was very annoyed last Monday when two fellow county men of my own, Joe Kernan and Kieran McGeeney, at the launch of the national league complained bitterly that we were the cause of burnout and that we were using the players too much, and all this sort of stuff.

“Good freshers, the likes of Michael Murphy in DCU and Aidan O’Shea particularly, I know it might be wrong that they can’t play Sigerson this year but I think it’s to their benefit long-term because they’re not training with their county. Then you have situations where the counties go and select them because they’re allowed to use them. I know in Jordanstown, for instance, they had guys last year that weren’t allowed to play in the McKenna Cup with them because of that rule but yet the Tyrones and Antrims of this world played them against the colleges, which is completely contradictory.

“We as a unit are trying to save them and they’re being used. The argument the county manager will give you in reply is that this is their chance to show they’re county material so that would be my take on that one.”

That debate is likely to run and run but the fixture squeeze could be eased somewhat, with Mallie revealing that more college fixtures will be played under floodlights as of next year.

Meanwhile college chiefs are considering playing next year’s centenary Sigerson Cup final at Croke Park.

Former GAA president Nickey Brennan first extended the offer to the third-level game during his period in office and current incumbent, Christy Cooney, has echoed that invitation.

“There’s a possibility of next year,” said Mallie at yesterday’s launch of the 2010 competition at NUI Maynooth, which will host this season’s final weekend. “UCD at this moment are looking at it. There’s an expense involved in putting up a temporary stand out in Belfield. You’re talking in the region of €30,000 for one day and two matches. That’s just really for television’s sake.”

There are plusses and minuses to hosting the third-level decider at headquarters. Chief among the latter is the stadium’s sheer size which would dwarf an attendance which routinely hovers around the 2,000-3,000 mark.

Mallie accepts as much but echoed a point made recently by Mickey Harte that every national final should be played at GAA headquarters while adding it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of those involved.

“It’s fantastic for boys of that age to get playing in Croke Park. Unless you make an All-Ireland semi-final or quarter-final you might never get out there. I would love to see the Sigerson final played in Croke Park.”

The latter stages of the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup are traditionally held in different venues and on different weekends but Mallie pondered the possibility of playing a double header in the GAA’s flagship ground.

“Then again, colleges treat it as a great honour to host these things. I know it’s getting more expensive but it’s still a great honour to do that. It’s great for selling the college to future students. You get finals and host them and students get to come and see the facilities in the college. Like, CIT have a marvellous setup with three or four floodlit pitches, and their own stand.”

With no stand on the Maynooth campus, this year’s Sigerson final will be played in nearby Leixlip but players involved in the Trench Cup that weekend will actually be following in the footsteps of men like Ronaldo and Raul.

The semi-finals of the competition are being held on the same Carton Hotel pitch where Real Madrid trained during pre-season late last summer. Newcastle United and the Dublin footballers have also used the facility in the past.

The timing of the third-level competitions, rather than the venues involved, have traditionally been the greater talking — and sticking — point and that has been no different again this year.


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