GAA Football

Paddy Tally says December start for McKenna Cup would suit universities

St.Mary's manager Paddy Tally. Picture by Philip Fitzpatrick.

ST MARY’S Sigerson Cup winning manager Paddy Tally says that it would be “disappointing” if the GAA’s plans for calendar reform meant that the university teams would no longer be able to compete in the McKenna Cup.

Reports yesterday claimed that the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup finals would be brought forward in 2018, leaving the possibility that the universities would have to abandon what has become a staple of their preparations for the All-Ireland competitions.

Both competitions are set to move away from the tradition of hosting their semi-finals and finals on the same weekend, and the earlier start from both is set to preclude St Mary’s, Ulster University and Queen’s University from entering the Sigerson next year.

That is unless a solution is found at Tuesday night’s Ulster CCC meeting, at which the counties are set to discuss the future make-up of the competition.

One solution could be to abandon the Ó Fiaich Cup, which has made a return in recent seasons as a December competition, and bring the start of the McKenna Cup forward to before the turn of the year.

Tally feels that the continuity his side was able to build during last year’s competition was crucial to their remarkable Sigerson success and the Galbally native would be keen to see the universities’ place retained.

“It is disappointing, to be honest, if it means the universities no longer play in those competitions. It would be great if they brought the start of the McKenna Cup forward.

“The Ryan Cup’s run over three weeks and if we don’t qualify for a semi-final, that’s us read up from next week until January.

“You’re looking from the end of October, November, December and if there’s no McKenna Cup, the end of January and Sigerson.

“What do you do with players at that time of year then? You want to give them a rest and generally our rule of thumb is that December’s a rest month for all our players, with no club or county football going on and boys can get a bit of recovery.

“If the McKenna Cup is played in December and into early January to allow it to be read up for the Sigerson, I think it would be super.

“I think Ulster Council would like that too. The introduction of the universities gave the competition a real lift, it allowed it to go into three sections of four and to flourish.

“It allowed fellas to pitch themselves against county footballers and I’m sure there are lads that got themselves on to county squads as a result of their performances.

“If they could facilitate to keep the universities on board, it would be a benefit for everybody.”

Tally has also been on the other side of the fence as part of the Tyrone and Down backroom teams in the past, and feels that the inter-county sides would also benefit from retaining the competition’s current format.

“For county management, the McKenna Cup’s brilliant. There are a lot of fellas that will want to make a county team but the National League now is so cut-throat that you have to win your home games and get those 6 or 8 points on the board.

“As a county manager, are you prepared to throw young lads into that environment? Being in the top two divisions now means an awful lot for a county going into championship, they’re heading into May having played against top teams.

“The McKenna Cup does offer that opportunity to put in lads that you want to have a look at. The McKenna Cup is a good shop window for young fellas on the university teams too, if they can show well you would consider looking at him.

“I think Ulster Council would be very keen to keep us involved in it and I hope they do. If that means playing in December, that’s fine, we’d be more than happy.”

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