GAA Football

Off The Fence: Star quality non-existent in Derry... and don't be blaming Celtic Park either

Recent attendances for Derry games at Celtic Park have been poor but 'North Derry Gael' is not having the argument that games should be moved out of the city venue. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

IT’S been a tough week for everyone involved with Derry, be it supporters, players and management.

They may have played in the old Division 2B as recently as 2004 but they were relegated from 1B and put there because of the way the leagues were split.

This relegation has a different feel about it. It’s a confirmation that they are, officially, among the eight weakest footballing teams in Ireland.

The sharp contrast with reaching the Division One final as recently as 2014 (and naturally, though people forget, continuing to play in the top flight in 2015) has been an obvious starting point for the discussion since defeat to Sligo saw them drop down beneath Offaly.

‘James’ feels that the lack of star quality is down to a lack of depth in the current club scene.

“Four years ago we played Dublin in a league final, since then it's been a sharp demise. Facts are we have no marquee players since the Muldoons, Lockharts and Bradleys of this world left the stage. The one we might have is in Australia and another we will have (Callum Brown) is on his way there this summer! I don't buy into the quality of our clubs as no one has laid a glove on Slaughtneil in years and is basically a procession for them, interest level in county football is non-existent. Our county board can't say they didn't see this coming with the turnover of players / managers’ three-year plans in recent years the question has to be asked why don't people want to play for their county? Time for an overhaul we can't get lower than this and hopefully the Gaels of Derry will now smell the coffee along with the clubs to help dig us out of this mess.”

[RESPONSE] The quality of clubs is a two-pronged thing. Take the recent Derry U21 championship, Lavey were not on the radar to win it, third or fourth favourites, and yet came through to go all the way to an Ulster final. Your point about Slaughtneil holds water but very few in Ulster have laid a glove on them. They have won three of the last for provincial titles, and would be head and shoulders above the rest of the club scene in almost any county. But you only need to look at the county’s record in Ulster intermediate and junior club championships for evidence of the lack of real depth – no junior winners and only three intermediate, the last in 2011.

‘North Derry Gael’, meanwhile, took umbrage with drawing ‘Kicking Out’ drawing the poor attendances at Celtic Park into the debate.

“Just read Cahair O’Kane’s article on Derry’s woes and like his predecessor and fellow county man P. Heaney he seems to think one of the main factors that Derry are doing so badly is the fact that they play games at Celtic Park! Absolute tripe.

“He quotes the figures from the Wexford and Offaly games, the numbers would have not that much greater if at all, if the games had have been elsewhere.

”And quotes a former player saying 100% of players would say they wouldn’t want to play there, but I recently read an interview with James Kielt in the Irish News saying that he liked playing in Celtic Park!

“If the county board put more effort into growing the game in the city (which was once a plan), where the largest population centre is, instead of persevering with the blight of parochialism in the county, then we might get back to the heady days of the nineties when Celtic Park was packed out!

“If the players are there and the team is good enough, it doesn’t matter where you play, the crowds will come!! [Go easy on the exclamation marks there, you’ll break the button].

“Let’s face it, hang sandwiches taste the same out of the back of a 4x4 on the streets of Derry city as they do on the ditches and grass verges of Ballinascreen!”

[RESPONSE] The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Attendances at Celtic Park, for both club and inter-county games, have been poor in recent years. There may come a time when games can go back in there if fortunes change. But as things stand, the disconnect between the inter-county team and majority of the county’s GAA public is a serious concern. Other counties rotate their games to great effect. Donegal would possibly do better if they played in Ballybofey every week but they insist on putting NFL games in Ballyshannon and Letterkenny. Monaghan take games to Inniskeen and Castleblayney. Derry has the facilities to follow that lead. The only question you need to ask at this stage is what’s to lose by doing it?

In other matters, Kieran McGeeney’s recently relayed fears that the GAA is slipping back against rugby and soccer in the battle for the public’s hearts and minds have received a bit of traction.

‘Armagh lady’ called to register her agreement.

“I’ve just come across the article headed ‘Blindsided’ relating to the threat that some other sports carry for us as GAA people, and the possible loss of ground. I have had many years of being involved with the GAA. My father brought me to my first game at 7 years of age. I have definitely found myself, and from speaking to other people that watch rugby about it, how rugby had fulfilled a very important role as I’m available to go to more matches. I’m an Armagh woman living over the border now, but still every day recognised to be an Armagh woman. Because I love my husband I moved over the border years ago, my family are reared and married, and in recent years I have found myself becoming ever-more enthusiastic about the game. I don’t want to do that at the cost to the GAA. I know from my own experience that my thinking and Kieran McGeeney’s thinking aren’t far away.”

And lastly, ‘Deasun’ [at least that’s what I think he said] has weighed in on the whole IFA-FAI row over players.

“It’s sad that Jim Shannon’s motion over what he describes as the IFA poaching of six county players playing for the 26 counties is now being celebrated by the DUP, a party which curried over the Irish language and described it as ‘crocodile loving’. It’s sad. It gets my blood boiling. Do they not realise that as nationalists, we are entitled to exercise our national right to play for whomever we want to, and the Good Friday Agreement cements that. It’s a sad, sad time and Michael O’Neill opened a can of worms.”

[RESPONSE] Michael O’Neill is clearly frustrated by the nature of things but he, and all at the IFA, will have to accept that this is the way things are and must stay. One portion of his argument that didn’t stack up was that, on one hand O’Neill was saying it was unfair on young players to be asked to decide, and then in the next breath saying he wanted a stay on players aged 17-21 in the IFA system. Wouldn’t that potentially be forcing a decision on 16-year-olds?

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