Tyrone club season makes ‘split’ calendar a lottery for county players says Red Hand boss Brian Dooher

Tyrone manager critical of GAA fixture format after wave of injuries rocks Red Hands

Conn Kilpatrick lashed home Tyrone's first goal against Kildare last Sunday. Pic Philip Walsh.
Conn Kilpatrick was one of a number of injured stars Tyrone had to do without during the League

THE split season… What’s ‘split’ about it? Asks Brian Dooher who says the intensity and length of Tyrone’s club competitions puts his players at a higher risk of injury when the county season follows hard on its heels.

Dooher has had to navigate his way through a series of setbacks this year. Injury followed injury in the League and he was forced to throw in youngsters like Seanie O’Donnell, Ben Cullen and Niall Devlin as the Red Hands battled their way to three wins.

Dooher said an injury list that included All-Ireland winners Conor Meyler, Frank Burns, Michael McKernan, Conn Kilpatrick, Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte is “inevitable nowadays” given the current fixture calendar.

“There’s no down-season for these players,” he said.

“That’s been well-documented. The split season… What’s ‘split’ about it? For the county players it’s not split. Basically they finish one (competition) and then start another. That’s where it is and it’s tough on them now – it’s tough on their bodies and I suppose as you get older that inevitably compounds it.

“With Tyrone it has probably come that bit quicker because the club season is longer and that bit more intense than some counties. Anybody that has a long, intense club season, it’s going to be very hard to marry those two things (club and county) together safely.”

Tyrone manager Brian Dooher
Brian Dooher says the GAA's 'split' season puts too much pressure on county players

Dooher had 16 years as a Tyrone senior player, a career that included three All-Ireland titles. He is concerned that modern players won’t enjoy the ‘shelf life’ he did.

“It depends how you get through injuries, how you manage injuries,” he said.

“You could be lucky or unlucky. But you’d expect, with the pressure that’s being put on them that it (longevity) isn’t being made any easier – that’s for sure. They (the GAA) talk about player welfare but to be perfectly honest their actions speak louder than their words. Everyone can see it (the toll on player) – I’m not the only one saying that.”

Dooher will be without Meyler for Sunday’s trip to Kingspan Breffni where Tyrone cross swords with a Cavan side that finished brilliantly to deservedly beat Monaghan in the preliminary round game a fortnight ago.

If things go south for Tyrone, Dooher won’t be using injuries as an excuse.

“We’ve been dealing with it (injury issues) all year and whatever hand we’re dealt we’ll cope with it and just go from there,” he said.

“Hopefully we’re picking from as wide a deck as possible but if it’s not the case, it’s not the case and we’ll just get on with it because there’s no value in complaining about it.

“We’ve a lot of young boys there that are coming on and you give them their opportunity and it’s an opportunity for somebody else to stand up as well. We’ve obviously stood up a right lot of men the year and, by and large, they’ve acquitted themselves fairly well.”

Meanwhile, Dooher rejects the suggestion that Ulster counties suffer on the All-Ireland stage because they play in a competitive provincial Championship.

Other Sam Maguire contenders – most notably Dublin in Leinster and Kerry in Munster – face little opposition in their provinces. Meanwhile, you could make a strong case for at least four of the remaining six counties still in the race to win the Ulster title.

Tyrone would be among that quartet and winning an Anglo-Celt Cup wouldn’t damage their chances in the Sam Maguire series, says joint-manager Dooher.

“Competitive matches probably give you an advantage,” said the Clann na nGael clubman.

“It (the Ulster Championship) does come with risks obviously – you’re playing high-intensity games which take more out of the body, but there are no easy games in inter-county football.”