Steven McDonnell: Shutting the dressing room door on clubs in Tyrone the wrong move

'Most counties in the north are allowing their teams to have access to changing rooms, and while Tyrone get a lot of things right terms of their organising and planning, this is the wrong decision in my opinion'

OVER the last two weekends, it has been fantastic to get competitive club games back up and running in Tyrone. This has been a long awaited and welcome return for all players, backroom teams and supporters of the clubs.

It leads us nicely into the much-anticipated Tyrone Senior Football Championship, which commence this weekend with preliminary round fixtures. The Tyrone CCC released their championship regulations last week and while most points are as you would expect, the most disappointing regulation they have included is that no team or official shall have access to changing room facilities.

In my honest opinion, this is a ridiculous decision, given the fact that in the north we are now allowed use of changing room facilities.

For nine months or so, teams have been preparing and gearing their season towards these important fixtures, and making this call this can jeopardise anyone’s preparations.

For instance, and I can only use Clonoe as an example as I manage them. We play Errigal Ciaran in the first round on Sunday, October 10 in Edendork.

October is a month which normally sees a lot of rainfall and the temperature dramatically drops. On top of this, Edendork do not have a covered stand area so where exactly do they expect both teams to change and for managers and coaches to deliver team talks if the rain is belting down like it was during our recent league match against Donaghmore?

Most counties in the north are allowing their teams to have access to changing rooms, and while Tyrone get a lot of things right terms of their organising and planning, this is the wrong decision in my opinion.

Imagine the scenario when Tyrone pulled out of their original All-Ireland semi-final clash with Kerry because of the high-profile outbreak of Covid among the squad. Croke Park and the GAA afforded them the opportunity of playing the game by putting it back a further week. What if Croke Park had said to Tyrone that the game would be delayed by the week but that they wouldn't be allowed access to the changing rooms in Croke Park. Does that change things? I think so.

My belief is that most club managers and players would want access to changing room facilities for their championship games. I don’t think I’d be alone in thinking that way so what I would hope for is that the Tyrone CCC rethink this regulation and that common sense prevails and that there is a positive outcome for all teams involved in championship action.

Championship is a special time for all club players and it always brings back fond memories for me. It wasn’t always winning memories as I only ever got as far as the semi-final stage twice in the senior championship. We were beaten both times, but back in 2004, we drew with a Crossmaglen team that, at the time, was dominating the club scene.

I did, however, win an Armagh intermediate title with Killeavy in 2012 and when I look back on my playing career now, and on what I achieved with Armagh, this title is up there in the top ranks as being one of my most important.

I retired from Armagh in April 2012, so winning silverware with Killeavy so soon after making this decision totally justified my decision. I always wanted to give something back to the club as a player but more importantly, when I was still capable of playing at a high level. I played like a man possessed in 2012 for the club and nothing was stopping us that year from winning the intermediate title.

To win alongside your mates from childhood and to witness the delight on the faces of the club stalwarts is so special that its almost impossible to put into words, the sense of satisfaction that you get from it.

As a player, I trained for the big days, the big moments and none are bigger than representing your club team or your county team in championship football. As a 42-year-old now, I would give anything to experience those moments again as a player. Nothing ever replaces the buzz of pulling on the jersey in the changing room. The smell of deep heat in the air and focusing your mind to go into battle. Those are the days that you really feel alive as a player. Win, lose or draw, embrace them days because before you know it, they will be gone. Championship time. What a time to be alive.

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