Fixtures crisis is 'killing' Gaelic football claims Martin McHugh
DONEGAL All-Ireland winner Martin McHugh has warned the GAA it runs the risk of “killing” Gaelic football unless immediate action is taken to resolve the fixtures crisis.
McHugh was one of a host of ex-county stars in Dublin on Monday at the launch of the Club Players’ Association (CPA), the new body who have set their sights on finding a way to ‘fix the fixtures’.
As a former player and manager at inter-county level who is currently involved with home club Kilcar, McHugh is better placed than most to analyse the impact scheduling problems are having across the board.
And he feels action has to be taken as soon as possible before irreparable damage is done: “I’ve got back into club management this year and I didn’t realise how bad it was and that’s why I got involved in this,” said McHugh, whose sons Ryan and Mark have been involved with the Donegal panel in recent years.
“It used to be you had senior players being stopped from playing football, now you have U21 players and minor players. Where’s it going to stop? We can’t kill club football because if we kill club football, county football’s gone.
"At the minute, we are actually killing the club - it’s scary. You see it on the ground, it is scary. They need to see that the club is a big, big part of it. The club should be the most important part and the county could be like an international soccer team.”
The crux of the problem, McHugh feels, is not the amount of games being played in an over-saturated market, but the amount of time spent on the training field without playing competitively.
And he feels a “common sense” approach can help find the solution to the ongoing difficulties: “Going forward, it can be sorted,” he said.
“Where it’s gone wrong is the ratio of training to games, that’s where the burnout is coming from. It’s an easy problem to solve. If you go into a sixth year class and give them an hour to do it, they’ll sort it out. That’s how it easy it is. But we need to want to do it at the level we’re at.
"There’s no reason that we can’t do it. I have two lads playing with Donegal and, from the point of view of the players, there’s far too much training and not enough matches. There’s pressure on county management and everything else to deliver, but every county should come together and say ‘right, we want our players to play club football, because when people go to watch club matches, they want to see the county players playing’. And that’s going to improve it.”
Should the current situation continue, however, McHugh is concerned the disconnect between club and county players could widen: “As a club manager, it’s totally frustrating trying to pick a team for a first round of the championship and waiting three months for the second round of the championship. It’s not easy - it wouldn’t happen at county level,” he said.
“The biggest thing I had to do in the club this year was, at my first meeting, I said we’re all in this together. It’s not county players against club players, we’re all supporting each other. We need to make a decision to look after our club players and be passionate about what we’re doing, that’s what our association is about.
"The grassroots is what it’s all about, it’s why we’re all here.”