GAA Football

McKenna Cup saga is 'over and done with' as Donegal and Jamie Brennan turn attention to National League

Donegal's Jamie Brennan along with Antrim hurler Neil McManus at Wednesday's launch of the Allianz National Leagues Picture by Hugh Russell
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

National Football League

DONEGAL’S Jamie Brennan is adamant that the county was left with no option but to pull out of the McKenna Cup earlier this month and says the matter is now “over and done with”.

Declan Bonner’s men were due to meet Monaghan in the semi-final of the pre-season competition a fortnight ago, but days before the tie the manager announced they had “reluctantly” taken the decision to withdraw. An injury pile-up and the McKenna Cup’s clash with the Sigerson Cup were the main reasons cited for the withdrawal.

Ahead of this weekend’s National League Division One opener with Mayo, Brennan says he can’t wait to put the disruption behind him and get a run of competitive games under his belt.

“We’ve had a bit of a turbulent month, with boys being sick and boys in college and stuff, but now we’ve got a block of eight games there, everyone’s looking forward to getting into it,” he said at Wednesday’s league launch in Belfast’s Malone House.

“The decision [to withdraw from the McKenna Cup] was made because we didn’t have the players, ultimately. I had a chest infection, Odhrán Ferry had a chest infection, Hugh [McFadden] had the flu, there was 13 or 14 lads playing with their colleges and it wouldn’t have been fair to call in club players who hadn’t been training with us.

“It wasn’t by choice; on the Sunday [before], we were still playing that game if we were to get to it and it’s just the way things happened, we weren’t able to. The coaching staff were on to me and other players to see what sort of shape we were in and would we be fit to make the weekend, there was maybe five or six lads who were asked would they be fit to go and they weren’t, so it was based on that and what the medical staff had to say.

“There’s huge support for the footballers in Donegal and it probably wasn’t the best result for them – they want to get out and support us as much as they can, but it’s over and done with now and hopefully they’ll be out supporting us in Ballybofey on Saturday.”

While Donegal’s withdrawal from the McKenna Cup was just one element of a month of recurring criticism of the GAA’s fixtures scheduling and the demands placed on young players, former IT Sligo student Brennan says change must be instituted from the top-down if it is to come at all.

“I don’t know if there will be a sea-change, but it has to come from the very top and everyone involved,” he added.

“There’s players there who are playing eight games in the space of a month and it’s tough on them, particularly players in colleges. I was one of them last year and you want to be playing for your college because you’re representing them and they’re helping you out.

“It’s difficult on the players and it’s a stressful enough time for them, so I suppose a masterplan will have to come from the very top. There’s rule changes and all this, but trying to sort out the fixtures should be number one on the list.”

On the upside, with the likes of Michael Langan, Peadar Mogan, Eoghan McGettigan and Michael Lynch both breaking onto the county panel and starring in the Michael Murphy-coached IT Letterkenny’s run to the Sigerson Cup semi-finals [POSSIBLY FINAL, DEPENDING ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT’S RESULT], Brennan is confident a year of tangible progress can begin with a good campaign in Division One.

“You have to turn over a new leaf and the start of the National League is about getting building blocks in place towards, ultimately, the Championship. May 17 [Ulster SFC v Tyrone], I think, is what we are aiming towards to set us off on the right foot,” said the Réalt na Mara clubman.

“If you look at the last two years, we didn’t get out of the [All-Ireland] quarter-finals – I think that’ll have to be a huge aim this year. We’ve a few boys injured for the league, that’ll give us a chance to blood a few other new players in that have played the McKenna Cup.

“Hopefully, they can make that step up to the league and, if you’re playing well, Declan will give you your chance, he proved that last year when it came to it. I think it’s just a matter of getting that balance right between experience and blending in the new players.”

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