Collie McGurk airs his frustrations over demands on Derry hurlers
DERRY hurling manager Collie McGurk has hit out at the county’s fixture committee over the demands on his players in the lead-up to their Championship campaign.
The Oak Leafers begin their Christy Ring Cup season against London on Saturday, and McGurk says he has been given just five days to prepare a squad that hasn’t been able to train together since their Division 2B relegation play-off win over Armagh on March 24.
The Lavey man revealed he had to cancel a challenge game with Loughgiel on the afternoon of the match because he only had 12 players available because of club commitments and injuries.
His issue revolves around the volume of club games in the window since the Allianz Leagues ended. With a squad made up almost entirely of dual club players, McGurk – who played county football and hurling for Derry – says a schedule of seven club football games and three in hurling since the beginning of April has left his squad exhausted.
“From April 4 until May 6, our dual players – and 95 per cent of our players are dual players – have been asked to play 10 games in 33 days by our county board’s fixtures committee. It’s a big ask.
“From last Thursday [when there were a round of club hurling games], they have four games in 10 days,” he said.
“You wouldn’t ask a professional soccer player to do it, who’s getting paid £200,000 a week. We’re asking amateur players to do it, and we’re just exhausting them. That’s all we’re doing.
“Our boys are in bits. We have broken hands, we have people with hamstrings. The basics of our county management have been reduced to a recovery operation.
“We haven’t trained since the Armagh game at all. We had challenge matches against Donegal, Loughgiel and Dunloy and had to cancel them all. There was no time to fit them in.
“While our neighbours in Armagh and Tyrone are engaging in training weekends down south, we can’t have a night to train.”
With dual inter-county men Chrissy McKaigue (who captains the hurlers) and Brendan Rogers committed along with a strong contingent from Ulster club champions Slaughtneil, Derry are among the favourites for the competition.
McGurk said he had requested that just two club football games be cancelled ahead of their Christy Ring campaign, which will represent a significant step-up from last year when they won the Nicky Rackard Cup.
The 13-day rule for inter-county teams does apply to counties in the lower tiers of the hurling championship, but only applies to club hurling games and not club football.
“Three weeks ago I hit the wall. I knew this was coming up. We had to cancel the match against Loughgiel, they’re coming to Celtic Park and I had to ring them in the middle of the day, on the day of the game, and cancel it.
“We had Celtic Park sorted, food and everything booked, but we hadn’t enough players. We only had 12 men. It’s totally embarrassing. You can’t blame the players – they want to play for their clubs, and you have to give them respect for that.
“At the end of the day it’s the clubs that provide the players for a county team.
“It begs the question, what are these people on the fixtures committee doing to promote their county teams? The fixtures committee has taken no cognisance of the county hurling team.”
A full round of club football games took place yesterday, with further rounds scheduled for Wednesday and Sunday before the league breaks for summer.
McGurk feels the scheduling of Wednesday night fixtures, on the one day a week the county hurling squad has designated for training, was particularly damaging.
“They told us no, that they wouldn’t put anything off, full stop. We’re looking the Slaughtneil and Lavey games on our own training night off so that the two county footballers can engage with the rest of the squad ahead of our main Championship game.
“To be putting a match six days before you play in the Championship stinks. The management team as a whole is scundered with the lack of a credible timeframe to prepare a team for Championship.
“It really disheartens you. You’re trying to win something in spite of your county fixtures committee, instead of them working with you.
“It was no different in the run-in to the Nicky Rackard Cup final last year. Whenever the senior football management clicked their fingers last year, the fixtures committee immediately obliged and matches were called off.
“I understand where hurling is in the priorities for most people in Derry, that it’s football first and hurling second, but there needs to be a bit more respect there.”
In a statement, Derry county board said: “Derry CCC met and agreed a fixtures schedule with the senior hurling management in January 2018.
“This was subsequently published for the certainty of all players and clubs, and has not been altered. Derry CCC have built in a two-and-a-half week gap between the last hurling League game and the start of the Christy Ring Cup.”