Kieran Donnelly: Today’s inter-county footballers in a good place

A Fermanagh GAA player runs away with the ball as he is pursued by an Antrim rival
Fermanagh started their Division Two campaign with a draw in Meath, and take on Kildare in their first home outing on Saturday. Picture by John McIlwaine

SEAN Quigley may feel that Gaelic football is fast approaching a tipping point – but his former manager insists inter-county players have never had it so good.

Fermanagh boss Kieran Donnelly lost experienced figures like Quigley and the Jones brothers, Ryan and Conall, before the start of this campaign, and his young panel started life in Division Two with a draw against Meath last weekend.

Quigley, who had been playing county football since 18 before closing the current chapter at 31, has seen plenty of change in that time, but believes the commitment required now is “too much time and effort, probably for what you’re getting out of it”.

“Even for younger lads,” he added back in November, “you need to have a balance because it’ll blow up and next thing they don’t want to be playing football because there’s no enjoyment in it.”

The Roslea forward was talking about the inter-county scene as a whole, not just Fermanagh, and finished up on good terms with Donnelly after opting to step back this year.

But while Quigley has his opinion, Donnelly sees it the other way – that players are getting more out of the game, and themselves, than ever before.

“I honestly think it’s in a really good place in that the players are catered for so well,” he said.

“If I put myself in a 25-year-old’s shoes, being a county footballer, I’d love it. You’re maximising yourself, you’re getting the best training, the best facilities, the best food, nutrition advice… compared to when we were playing, training is now being tapered off and there’s science involved, so no players are being flogged or over-trained.

“So I would flip that - the fact we are a young squad, the boys enjoy being together and we try to make it as enjoyable an environment as we can. I do feel there’s more positives than negatives.”

And, after that encouraging start in Navan, the Ernemen bid to further enhance their Division Two credentials when they welcome Kildare to Brewster Park on Saturday night.

The Lilywhites lost their opener to Cavan in Carlow, and Donnelly expects Glenn Ryan’s men to come out all guns blazing in a bid to give their campaign a belated kick-start.

Fermanagh have a clean bill of health for this weekend's game against Antrim, according to manager Kieran Donnelly.
Kieran Donnelly believes the modern-day inter-county player is well served, even though former Fermanagh player Sean Quigley claimed Gaelic football was nearing a tipping point

“We’re going to face a Kildare team that will be hurting from that first defeat.

“They’re a team that could and probably should have beat Monaghan last year, and we saw how Monaghan went on to compete against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final.

“Kildare have a real natural mix of pace and size, they’re extremely mobile, so we have a big task ahead. They would have fancied themselves to get promoted this year.

“But we all perform better when we’re not expected to, when we’re not given a chance, that’s one of our strengths.”

Indeed, having led by three heading towards the last, Fermanagh could even have come back up the road with two points from their clash with the Royals.

But Donnelly is impressed with how his side has gone about its business after earning promotion from Division Three and, especially with a significant injury list including the likes of influential trio Darragh McGurn, Jonny Cassidy and Ryan Lyons.

“The fact we’re in Division Two, you always have to try a different outlook but it’s just small tweaks.

“We feel we’ve developed a good squad, even though we’ve had a couple of retirements of experienced players, so we’re trying to continue on the trend we were.

“The step up is massive, but we do feel we have the athleticism and the mobility to cope with it. That said, we’re very aware we always have to be at our maximum to gain points at this level.

“We feel we’ve constantly evolved this last couple of years, and being in Division Two, you’re only going to get better. As a squad, we’re on an upward trajectory.

“These younger players have no inferiority complex, that’s the beauty of youth, and we do feel our strengths are our pace and energy – if you don’t have that at this level, you’ll definitely be found out.”