GAA Football

No perfect answer for club and county says Karl McKaigue

Derry defender Karl McKaigue feels there is no perfect solution to issues surrounding club football in the county. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

DERRY defender Karl McKaigue says that there is “no perfect answer” to the rolling issue of clashes between club football and the county team.

Major advances appeared to have been made last year when clubs agreed to a new system of ‘A’ and ‘B’ games.

Clubs would be guaranteed their county players for ‘A’ games, which would see last year’s top eight all play each other, and last year’s bottom eight face off.

That meant that clubs would have a full squad available for the games most likely to directly affect them in terms of either relegation or a chase for the title.

It was agreed that county players would not necessarily be available for ‘B’ games, in which the top eight face the bottom eight.

But ahead of last weekend’s club games, some clubs decided to renege on the arrangement and forced the county’s CCC into a position where games had to be postponed until late July.

Only three of the eight Division One games were played, while Division Two ties involving Castledawson and Newbridge, both of whom have county players, were also postponed.

“It rears its head every year,” said the Oak Leaf defender.

“It’s mainly about teams around the bottom wanting their county men because they’ve found themselves in a relegation dogfight and they need to pick up points.

“Fair enough them wanting their players but it was agreed at the start of the year that there would be a certain amount of fixtures that are meant to be without county men.

“It’s a problem I don’t know the solution to, I don’t think there’s any perfect answer to it. It’s probably going to be a problem for years to come, being honest.”

Although players outside the 26-man matchday panel are often free to play with their clubs, McKaigue concedes that there is an issue for the subs that don’t always get football.

“Another problem we have is boys that are on the county panel not getting a lot of game time there. They’re being asked to sit out club games too and they end up probably becoming worse players because they’re getting no football whatsoever bar training. It’s nearly impossible to strike a balance there.

“There’s no easy answer. There should be a certain amount of discretion with allowing number 21-26 to go and play with their clubs, but then there’ll be boys between 16 and 21 that don’t get enough game time.

“Clubs will chirp up and say that there’s a county man who’s number 25 playing against us, but our number 18 isn’t playing.

“You can’t keep everybody happy, whether it’s clubs, players or the county management. I don’t know how to work around it.”

The Slaughtneil man, who has three Ulster club medals – two in football and one in hurling - and played in two All-Ireland finals with the Emmets, says that there is no lack of love for the county setup among players and that the club v county argument has often been wrongly portrayed.

He believes that the Oak Leaf players are always willing to give their best to the county’s cause, but that there is such a deep love for the club that loyalties can become split when disagreement arises.

“In Derry I don’t think it’s a case that players aren’t as proud of their county as they are of their clubs. It’s just a sense that clubs are very important.

“The players want to play every game for their clubs, especially important games, and they still want to play for Derry.

“They’re nearly put into a position where they have to choose one or the other and probably in Derry, they’ll always go back to the club because it’s so highly thought of.

“From my experience, people say the reason Derry county team isn’t that strong is because players are too involved with their clubs. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

“I think players want to play for the county and want the best for the county.”

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