GAA Football

Eamonn Burns questions future of Wednesday night McKenna Cup games

Down manager Eamonn Burns. Picture by Seamus Loughran
By Cahair O'Kane

Dr McKenna Cup section B: Down v Ulster University (Sunday, 2pm, Burren)

DOWN manager Éamonn Burns says the scheduling of the McKenna Cup is contrary to the idea of improving player welfare.

The Mourne boss has had a frustrating week. Firstly tomorrow’s meeting with Ulster University was called off at the last minute after officials decided Burren was unplayable last weekend.

Then on Wednesday night, their team bus was held up by a combination of fog and heavy traffic and didn’t arrive in Celtic Park until 7.35pm for a game scheduled to throw-in at 8pm.

The start was pushed back 15 minutes to facilitate Down but that impacted on the other end of things, with Burns one of the last men to get back on the bus before it pulled out of the Lonemoor Road ground at just after 10.30pm.

“Conditions were difficult. There were queues on the motorway coming off at Toome, and there was an awful lot of traffic coming through Belfast. It’s very hard for us to get from Newry to Derry for 7pm on a Wednesday night.

“Common sense would dictate, we’re in Derry after 10pm. I’ve to get guys back to Newry, it’ll be 1am before they’re there. These boys came out of work early [on Wednesday] and they’re going to work early [on Thursday].

“I don’t really think that’s good for player welfare to be quite honest.”

When asked whether Ulster Council should consider the future of Wednesday night games in the competition, the Bryansford man replied: ”It depends on where you’re playing. Last week, it was us and Armagh and it wasn’t as big a commute for Armagh.

“Tonight, we’re travelling three hours, that’s far too much for a lad coming out of work and maybe going home to a family.”

Down, like the other 11 teams, had been scheduled to play three games in eight days before the frost took hold last Sunday.

Having lost their opening two games, the second of them thanks to the concession of a 69th minute winning goal for Derry on Wednesday night, means they cannot qualify for the semi-final.

The squeezed schedule for the competition falls in line with the rest of the calendar, with the National League and Championship also both tightening up this year.

“Looking at the calendar this year, it’s very congested and they’re squeezing a lot of games in,” Burns told The Irish News.

“Tonight, if the game on Sunday had gone ahead, would have been three games in eight days. That’s far too tight when we’re in the era of talking about player welfare.

“I don’t know if we’re really looking after players as well as we could, and we might need to look at that.

“If you roll the thing further down the line, the Ulster final’s at the end of [June] and the thing is really, really tight.

“Time has to be allowed for players to play club football, so there’s not much room for these guys if they pick up a knock.”

This meeting with Paul Rouse’s side being a dead rubber means that Down will at least have two free weeks between Sunday’s game and their opening League game against Louth on January 28.

The Jordanstown men could mathematically still qualify, but only with a freak set of results. UU would have to win by 14 points tomorrow and hope Derry beat Armagh, and that Monaghan and Donegal draw.

The more likely scenario is that they too will be enjoying a couple of weeks before their next game, the small matter of that Sigerson Cup opener against holders and city rivals St Mary’s.

Both those teams have impressed in January, with the Jordanstown men playing much of the better football against both Derry and Armagh, without the tangible rewards they might have had.

Niall Madine and Mark Bradley are both back in the starting side after missing the Derry game, with Ronan McNamee’s move to midfield a notable switch against Armagh.

The students could well have been playing properly for a place in the semi-finals here, but as it is, they might finish off with a morale-boosting victory before the big derby on January 31.

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