The head of the GAA’s Higher Education (HE) Council believes there would be a massive backlash if young county players were suffering injuries while playing for their colleges this spring.
Following intense schedules involving colleges and county games, high-profile students like David Clifford and Cillian O’Hanlon have picked up knocks while lining out for Kerry and Cork respectively in the Allianz Leagues.
O’Hanlon’s county team-mate Seán Powter, who had also been representing UCC, is also out for the remainder Division 2 campaign after sustaining a hamstring tear in the Rebels’ round one defeat to Tipperary last Saturday week.
HE chairman Gerry Tully feels there would have been considerably more outrage had players sustained injuries away from the county fold.
“If it was the other way around, we would probably be getting all the bad press. If it was the other way around, there would be a lot more made of it. We will hopefully be all the wiser towards the end of the year when we can reflect on how the calendar works but it could be a lot worse now if the U20 championship was thrown into it.
“There’s an even tighter calendar this year and there has been slightly more pressure on third level with the earlier start to the National Leagues. Unfortunately, third level competitions couldn’t start earlier than January 21 because exams had only been completed in some colleges the day before. We would love to play our colleges games in the month of January but some colleges, only a few, had exams then. The one thing we can’t compromise on is exams.”
Tully would love to see Waterford manager Derek McGrath’s proposal for Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup players to be made exclusively available to their colleges for the duration of the competitions come into force but questions how realistic a goal that is.
“That would be ideal but getting it through might be difficult. It would be ideal if they didn’t have to play with the counties but young fellas want to do that. It’s their ambition.”
The decisions by the likes of Dublin footballer Con O’Callaghan last year and the reported call by his team-mate Brian Howard this season not to line out in the Sigerson Cup have drawn attention.
O’Callaghan was occupied by Cuala’s All-Ireland club SHC advance and Dublin U21 football commitments and surrendered his scholarship.
O’Callaghan said 13 months ago: “I was told I would get a scholarship but I hadn’t been really approached so it made it a little bit easier and I said ‘look before you offer me anything I’m going to take a step back’.”
O’Callaghan has suggested he could play some Sigerson football for UCD this year despite Cuala again preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final.
O’Callaghan’s fellow UCD student Liam Silke has also not featured for the college due to Corofin’s involvement in the All-Ireland Club SFC series.
Howard, despite also being on a scholarship, was unavailable to DIT for yesterday evening’s Sigerson Cup quarter-final clash in Tralee to focus on staying in Jim Gavin’s team.
DIT boss Billy O’Loughlin said last night: “His priorities is trying to nail down a place in the Dublin side so it’s very tough on him and should not be happening.”
Raheny man Howard, a star in Dublin’s U21 All-Ireland success last year, has started and finished both of the county’s opening wins over Kildare and Tyrone.
Tully stresses the amount of money that third level institutions have spent developing GAA facilities, which have been utilised by several counties.
“We have to remind people that colleges put massive resources into GAA. The facilities over the last 10 years have improved hugely and that has come largely from college funding but with some help from the GAA. You see CIT, you go to Waterford, UL, DCU, UCD, Carlow IT… there are scholarships then and all sorts of other support for elite GAA players. The college authorities like to get some return for their investment.”
Tully recalls how hurling leagues five years ago didn’t commence until the last weekend of February compared to now when they began with the football at the end of January.
“In that way, there has been more pressure on the hurling,” he says.
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