GAA Football

CPA must give club players a voice insists Tyrone Allstar Mattie Donnelly

Mattie and Richie Donnelly were key men as Trillick won their first Tyrone SFC title in 19 years in 2015
Neil Loughran

THOSE who follow the Club Players’ Association (CPA) on Twitter will have noticed a number of high-profile names hitching themselves to the wagon in recent weeks.

From Galway great Pádraic Joyce to Slaughtneil dual star Chrissy McKaigue, Aaron Kernan to Joe Brolly, the movement is gathering momentum.

Mattie Donnelly didn’t have to think twice. Having been at the forefront of Tyrone’s charge to the top of the mountain in Ulster last July, 10 months after leading Trillick to a first Tyrone SFC in 19 years, he has a sound understanding of both the club and county scenes.

A meeting is set to take place in Dublin on Saturday to look at how the CPA will function, with the key objective to ensure club players have a collective voice that will be listened to.

Looking within his own county, Donnelly has seen at first hand how clubs attempt to plan their championship preparation around how Tyrone’s summer might progress. It’s a far from ideal scenario, and the two-time Allstar insists something has to change.

“You can feel the frustration of club players within Tyrone,” said the 25-year-old.

“It’s hard because you’re basing when you need to peak in a club championship on the uncertainty of another team’s progress – the county team.

“There’s a lot of players in the county who were probably presuming Tyrone were going to be playing football in September, maybe hedged their bets and planned their training around that.

“The next thing that didn’t go according to plan [Tyrone exited the All-Ireland series at the start of August] and then you’re perhaps two or three weeks out from the first round of the club championship and they’re panicking a bit.

“If Tyrone had beaten Mayo and gone on and reached an All-Ireland final, you might have seen a different winner in the Tyrone championship because different teams and different players would’ve been fit at different stages. That would be the case all over Ireland.

“Players playing for their county, their chances of success with their club shouldn’t be hindered by their commitment to the county, which I think is the case at the minute.”

Declan Brennan, a two-time Monaghan SFC winner as a player and four-time winner as manager of Clontibret, is the man driving the CPA in these early stages - and Donnelly feels he is “the best man to have in that situation”.

“I’d have a good relationship with Declan and he’s very passionate about it. There’s no empty words with Declan,” said Donnelly.

Brennan says he has received thousands of messages from people offering support for the venture, with the sole aim to find a solution to the ongoing fixtures problem. And Donnelly says it is imperative that everybody involved in Gaelic football pulls in the one direction.

He added: “I do work for the GPA [Gaelic Players’ Association] as well and people might think it’s a conflict, but I don’t classify players as county or club.

“At the end of the day, a county player is a club player as well. I live with two fellas who are club players, and during the week they would probably make more of a sacrifice than I would to play for the county. With county football, there’s probably more reward comes from it. You’re a lot better looked after, there’s no doubt about it.

“The commitment fellas like that are making all over Ireland, even in my own club, at times it’s frustrating and you see there’s nearly a disconnect between the county player and the club, which shouldn’t be the case at all.

“The main first step is that it [the CPA] gives clubs a voice, which can’t be disregarded in any way, and the ultimate goal is probably to have a clearer fixture schedule - one that’s not disrupted as much as it has been.”

GAA director-general Páraic Duffy unveiled his latest proposals for the football Championship last month, with the playing of extra-time in all matches (apart from the All-Ireland final) rather than replays one of the measures designed to help compress the Championship summer.

But Donnelly believes even more can be done: “There’s no doubt it can be reduced, when you take the likes of replays out of it," he said.

“There are a lot of teams sitting for weeks doing nothing, training and ticking over, but there’s definitely room to manoeuvre some sort of shorter inter-county season to give the clubs a bit more breathing space and a bit more clarity on when their championship will take place.

“At the end of the day, that’s what the majority of clubs would aim for.”

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