Dr McKenna Cup has proven its value to Ulster counties

Over 4,000 spectators turned up to see Down and Derry in last weekend's Dr McKenna Cup semi-final, prove that the competition merits its place in the GAA calendar Picture by Hugh Russell

I THOUGHT the Dr McKenna Cup had had its day. Given the calendar and the GAA's insistence that the season splits between county and club games, it seemed unnecessary to lump more pressure on managers and players with an early start in January for a competition I considered had run its course.

And given the weather in this country, it was never guaranteed games would go ahead so for me it was a no-brainer. The McKenna Cup had to go.

However, without the McKenna Cup inter-county teams would probably be playing each other in challenge matches anyway.

With the nine county teams split into three groups and the universities no longer part of the competition, the McKenna Cup serves a purpose again.

I went to two of the three Down games and they were competitive and well attended.

Mourne supporters have been enthusiastic, with over 4,000 at Pairc Esler for the Derry game.

What does this say about the appetite for games at this time of the year?

There is obviously plenty of interest and I would argue that our game has never been as popular, nor well attended.

With the doom and gloom of the cost of living crisis, I can't help but feel that football fans' release from all these very real issues is simply going to watch a game.

I also saw so many young people at the matches, giving me confidence that there will be more than one or two young, emerging Clifford brothers coming through every few years.

It always helps when the inter-county team is winning and on the crest of a wave.

I suppose therein lies the challenge for county boards. It has to be made as easy as possible to attend games

and, as I have stated before, there must be a mechanism for fans to pay at the turnstiles.

By not facilitating it, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

You are preventing someone from escaping the very real worries prevalent in society. It's quite possible that the match may be the best part of their week.

This is one of the many functions of the GAA – to make the people happy.

There was no shortage of incidents at the

All-Ireland junior final between Stewartstown and Fossa, with six men sent off.

To say that there is no love lost between Tyrone and Kerry teams is an understatement and it appears this rivalry is maintained at club level.

The fact the games were being televised and played on the GAA's biggest stage at Croke Park didn't dissuade some very special treatment being dished out to the Clifford brothers.

The elbow smash to Paudie Clifford was particularly nasty and premeditated.

I love a physical game and when two teams go hard at it there is no better sport around.

But I see no bravery in that sort of action.

David Clifford capped a wonderful year at all levels and regardless of his status he too was subjected to one or two tickles in particularly sensitive areas.

Stewartstown and Galbally, who lost to another Kerry side, Rathmore, in the intermediate final, will still look on the season as incredibly successful and the journey remains one of the most special for any club team.

To win a championship in your own county and to represent your province is a dream for any player and his family and these days will never be forgotten in the parish.

I am not on Instagram but I am aware of plenty who are and it is difficult not to be impressed by those influencers who have the time and resources to eat perfect meals and snacks 24/7.

I enjoy a social drink, but if I went through months, or a year, without taking any alcohol it wouldn't bother me.

However, I'd lose my life if you asked me to live without chocolate – not dark chocolate – milk chocolate

I will train most days, in part for my mental health, but in part to allow me to indulge in chocolate consumption without putting on (much) weight.

The fact that I was always hugely active throughout my football days certainly presents me with a problem in that I have not been able to sustain the same levels of activity now as I could as a younger man.

This is particularly a problem when you have never had to watch what you ate.

Over the years, we had various nutrition experts and dieticians come in to talk us through the dos and don'ts in order to optimise sporting performance.

There were designated members of a ‘fat club' within the squad most years who perhaps struggled to shift festive weight and they were assigned additional runs at training on a regular basis.

Thankfully, I was never one of those runners.

Nor in truth, did I ever pay much heed to the nutritional experts.

My mum's bacon, egg, sausage and spuds were always good enough for my sporting needs.

Nowadays, I look around inter-county squads and rarely would there be a player who could be described as carrying ‘timber'.

Over the weekend, although I only caught some highlights, the All-Ireland Club junior and intermediate finals did appear to feature some who could be considered ‘bulky'.

In many ways, it is great to see that the stereotypical sculpted, robotic athlete we see now can be usurped by the gifted, skilled and talented finisher who uses his backside effectively to buy time and space.

Maybe the bulky genius has enjoyed many a late-night kebab after scoring a hat-trick at soccer on a Saturday afternoon even though there's a Sunday afternoon Gaelic match pending. But he manages to recover in time to kick another goal and a few points before heading home, still dying from the night before, with a Chinese mopping up what remains of the hangover.

Of course, this same individual owns a phone with a cracked screen that still functions well enough to get by.

Their worst nightmare, though, would be having to mark David or Paudie Clifford after one of these legendary nights out.

Then again, that club legend would never be a defender – they have too much flair to be assigned to such a task as picking up the best player in the opposition team.