The current college-county fixtures clashes are not sustainable, says Nicky English, and it is threatening the very existence of the Fitzgibbon Cup.
The former Tipperary star forward and manager has watched with dismay as last weekend inter-county players such as Conor Cleary lined out for Clare and Paudie Foley for Wexford less than 24 hours after they were involved in the Fitzgibbon Cup final.
English, who won five consecutive Fitzgibbon titles with UCC and managed UCD in recent years, is concerned that its true value is being lost not just because of how it is being treated in the calendar but in regards to how it is viewed as “just another competition to win”.
“The fixtures clashes and burden on players is worse this year in term of the clash between third level and the inter-county scene, particularly on the hurling side as the National League was brought into January.
“I don’t have to give examples but there were numerous ones like the Fitzgibbon Cup final taking place on Saturday and Conor Cleary, who was captain of the winning UL team, lining out for Clare the following day. “You can have all the fanfare of the launch of the Fitzgibbon and the reporting of the victory of UL but you wonder just how sustainable the whole thing is.
“As someone who has been involved in it as a player and as a coach over many years, I would say the best of what the Fitzgibbon is about is the creation of the friends and contacts for life. It’s not just about winning a Fitzgibbon.
“The third level teams and coaches are not in any position to dictate any terms but ultimately if you’re not able to create the fabric of friendship in Fitzgibbon teams you defeat its purpose.”
Asking inter-county players to make the call on whether they want to play Fitzgibbon hurling or not and staging most if not all of the competition in January seems the closest thing to a solution, reckons the Lattin-Cullen man.
“If it’s a case of one third level team full of inter-county galacticos playing another third team full of inter-county galacticos who may know the players on the opposing team better than those on their own sure what matter who wins the competition?
“That really is the point for me. If you want the elite players in then they probably have to be ring-fenced for the month of January and let them choose if they want to play with the college or not and not have this are they or in or are they out type of scenario.
“As we have seen going through the National League, the team managements have been much more prepared to experiment and therefore that might allow for the Fitzgibbon in January.
“The principle here is do we have a competition where a college can say ‘we won the thing’ or do we actually want to create a camaraderie and lasting friendships and fabric for the students in their lifetimes. I would be more interested in that approach.”
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