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Brendan Donaghy remains committed to the Armagh cause

Brendan Donaghy is the only inter-county footballer outside of Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal still playing to have an Ulster SFC winners' medal in his pocket Picture by Seamus Loughran

ARMAGH stalwart Brendan Donaghy believes “barstool experts” that question players on their commitment to inter-county football “don’t understand what you’re trying to do”.

The 33-year-old will start into his 13th championship season with the county on Sunday, and will be the oldest player on the pitch when his Orchard side take on neighbours Down in Páirc Esler.

Donaghy has an Ulster medal from 2008 in his collection, making heand Charlie Vernon the only players from outside the recent top three of Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan to still be playing with a provincial medal in their pockets.

The Clonmore man was a late sub for Francie Bellew in the replay of that decider against Fermanagh, which was the county’s last appearance in St Tiernach’s Park for the showpiece.

The rising levels of commitment to inter-county football has long been a source of debate, particularly during the lifespan of his own career, but Donaghy feels that those criticising from the outside aren’t aware of what’s happening on the inside.

“I find generally the people that ask why you’re doing it are the people that don’t understand it. You get the experts on the barstools asking ‘what are you doing it for?’

“I had somebody a few years ago saying ‘you’ve put in all this effort, do you not think it’s been a total waste of your time, you’ve nothing to show for it?’ They don’t understand what you’re trying to do.”

Donaghy has always been against the idea of a tiered championship, saying last year to The Irish News that the idea of one “turns my stomach”.

And yet it looks increasingly likely that under John Horan’s leadership, the GAA will introduce one in the very near future.

He believes that removing the lure of playing for Sam Maguire could be damaging in terms of attracting young players into the inter-county game, and says he would ‘resent’ playing in it.

“You’d still play. It would go against every bit of you, having to play it. You’d still play it, but you’d resent it too.

“When you’re beat in a second tier All-Ireland, does it mean as much as when you get beat in a first tier All-Ireland?

“Everyone talks about the hunt for Sam, the hunt for Sam, everyone wants to do it. But you’ve no chance of doing it if you’re stuck in the second tier.

“You’re talking about getting people to continue playing the sport. You tell an 18-year-old ‘come on ahead, play with us, we’ll play in this second tier competition. You’ll never win Sam but sure’.

“You’d have to question it. Because there are so many options, boys can go travelling or do anything, they’d be thinking ‘what am I hanging about for this for?’”

Donaghy also hit out at the GAA’s ticket pricing structure. This year saw the price of entry to games in both League and Championship hiked.

“To me they’re trying to keep up with all these other sports and moving away from what their own game should be about.

“They talk about the amateur ethos, what it means to be, and then you look at their ticket prices for championship games or league games - £20 to go and watch a league game is complete madness.

“A family wants to go down, it could be the guts of €70 or €80 to watch a game of football. I’m not sure where they think they’re going with the whole thing.”

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