GAA Football

Inter-county game is tailor-made for students: Antrim ace Michael McCann

Antrim's Michael McCann in action during this summer's Ulster Championship defeat to Fermanagh

MICK McCANN says Antrim need to create a younger inter-county team rather than “constantly digging into players who are in their late 20s and early 30s”, who can no longer give the time commitment required.

The Cargin man returned to the Antrim fold this year and helped the county win promotion out of Division Four, but the Saffrons were gone from the Championship after back-to-back defeats to Fermanagh and Limerick.

Now 31, McCann hasn’t given much thought to whether he will return to the county scene in 2017, due to family and work commitments. Along with his brothers Éamonn and Tomás, McCann runs two gyms - in Toomebridge and Magherafelt. Last season, the talented midfielder found juggling work, family life and playing for Antrim an almost impossible task.

In a candid interview, McCann says the inter-county scene is a game for students or those with flexible working hours: “If you’ve no children and you’re fairly flexible in your work life, you’re fine. People who work full-time and have to train four or five days-a-week, it’s really tough.

“The demands are really high. Everybody is chasing down the Dublins and the Tyrones of this world. There are so many perks playing for Dublin that the likes of people from Antrim don’t get.”

McCann added Antrim need to improve their underage structures if they have designs on moving up the leagues and performing better in the Championship: “I think it all stems from underage structures. If you’ve really good underage structures and you’ve a player of 20 or 21 who’s at university and has come through the ranks, they’ve so much time to train and you can train them the way you want them to train.

“Unfortunately for Antrim, the underage structures aren’t good, so we constantly have to keep digging into players who are in their late 20s or early 30s and they can’t give it the time. If you have good underage structures, you’ll do well because you’re dealing with guys in their early 20s, mad to do all the extra training. That’s the way the whole thing’s going. But because some counties don’t have that set-up, they struggle.”

McCann, who is preparing for Cargin’s championship semi-final with St John’s on Saturday week, admitted he was forced to miss training sessions with Antrim because of his work: “They say a player should show up and all he has to think about is the training session,” he said.

“But it gets to the point that’s the last thing you’re thinking about because you’re trying to get to training. I didn’t enjoy that process, if I’m honest. That’s nobody’s fault but my own. I enjoyed the football and we’d a good run in the league, but the finish to the year and losing to Limerick was disappointing.”

He added: “Did I enjoy the season with Antrim? I enjoy playing football. I don’t think I enjoyed how we got there in terms of the drives up the road. I was missing sessions because of my work.”

McCann gets roughly five hours sleep per night and is at his gym at 6am for classes and works right through the day, but for a couple of quiet hours in the afternoon. The McCanns are in the process of trying to get their new Magherafelt gym off the ground, which means more hours of work.

Last season, joint-manager Gearóid Adams was instrumental in persuading the Cargin man back to the Antrim fold. And while he performed well, McCann indicated 2016 might have been his last season with the county team.

“I haven’t thought about it in any real detail. If I was made to take a decision now, I would probably say ‘no’," he added.

“I turned 31 a couple of months ago. I do a lot of training myself in terms of gym work and I’m probably as fit and as strong as I’ve ever been. I’m doing all the right things. I know what type of training I should be doing. I don’t feel as if I’m any older so, from that side, I’ve no concerns.

“From a recovery and mental side of things, you have to gather yourself up to drive to Belfast three or four times-a-week, which is tough, and the weekends away. I would love to keep playing but, to be honest, I think it’s a game for students nowadays. If you’re talking about going to train in Belfast, that’s maybe 6pm-to-10pm - four hours per night, three times per week and then you have a match at the weekend, away. For a player, it’s easily 25 hours a week.”

Meanwhile, McCann’s focus is on Antrim SFC semi-final opponents St John’s in Glenavy this Sunday (3pm). Lámh Dhearg beat O’Donovan Rossa, winning the right to face St Gall’s in the other semi-final. McCann dismisses the notion that favourites Cargin and St Gall’s will ease through their respective semi-finals to face one another in the decider.

“St John’s isn’t going to be easy. We of all people should know that you can’t take anybody for granted in Antrim. We drew our first championship match against Creggan - we actually nearly lost it," he said.

“Anybody can beat anybody in the championship. That’s the truth. I couldn’t tell you who’s going to be in the final this year. St Gall’s semi-final [against Rossa or Lámh Dhearg] will be a battle and our game with St John’s will be a battle. It’s got to that stage.

"It’s easy looking from the outside and thinking: ‘Well, it will be Cargin v St Gall’s in the final’, but it’s much easier said than done.”

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