GAA Football

Players should have to choose between Championship and USA - Liam Kearns

Tipperary manager Liam Kearns during a press conference at the JW Marriott Dubai ahead of Saturday's GAA-GPA Allstars game
Picture by Sportsfile

PLAYERS should have to decide at the start of the season between representing their county or going to the USA, believes Tipperary boss Liam Kearns.

The Kerry man, who will oversee the 2016 Open GAA/GPA Football Allstars team against the 2015 version under Mickey Harte in Dubai on Saturday, argues against players being able to leave after the league but before the Championship or Qualifiers.

Kearns somehow led Tipp to their first All-Ireland Football semi-final despite losing a host of players, including Jason Lonergan, Liam Casey, Kevin Fahey and Ross Mulcahy -  all of whom helped Tipperary reach the 2015 All-Ireland U21 final against Tyrone - were in America this summer.

Although they are back now, along with others, Kearns feels counties should be able to plan with more certainty for the Championship: “The GAA tried to address it, in so far as you had to go by a certain time, but all the effect that’s having is that you have them for the league and then they’re gone for the Championship," he said.

“I’ll be honest, I think the only way they can stop it fully is that you have to declare if you’re going to America, and if so you can’t play football for your county. And I don’t know are they willing to do that.

“Other than that it’s up to the counties to address it, which is what we’re doing. We want to know who’s going away and who isn’t and if they’re not committing, we’re kind of saying to them, ‘Look lads, we need full commitment here’… Anybody that can't commit for the year is not [included]."

The other pull on potential players for Kearns’ panel is closer to home - hurling. With Tipp being the All-Ireland senior champions that may make life even more difficult for him, but he’s realistic about ‘losing’ players such as Steven O’Brien, Séamus Kennedy and others to the small ball code.

"It is a hurling county and that's it. And remember, I've experience of it because I was in Limerick. Alright, it was years ago, but it hasn't changed too much," he added.

O’Brien barely played for the hurlers this year, having been a midfield star with Tipp’s U21 footballers, but Kearns commented: “It’s a two-year plan and they want to see whether he's up to it… My understanding is that he's going to get his opportunity in the [hurling] league that's coming up. And then, I presume, they'll make a decision on whether he's good enough.

"From our point of view, we know he's more than good enough. He's one of the best young midfielders in the country… But it's a hurling county, there's not a lot we can do about it. We're just going to have to suck it up and, if he makes it in hurling, well he makes it in hurling. And there's no point in us dwelling on it.

"I'll be honest with you, we dwelt on it a bit too long last year. But I would say that was because we lost so many other players with him. Once we got on with it, we found that was the best way. There's no point in talking about players who are not going to be with you."

Having said that, Kearns still sounded wistful about O’Brien, saying: “He was on the Munster senior team. He was Munster U21 player of the year in football. He's on a football scholarship in DCU.

“So, yeah, absolutely, I'm not giving away any state secrets by saying we'd be talking about building a team around him. Whereas now, I don't know, at the end of the day it's going to be very hard for him to break into an All-Ireland winning team now. The best he can do, in my view, is get on the bench. And is he willing to sit on the bench for the whole year again? I don't know."

Kearns has not spoken to Kennedy about coming to the football squad though: "No, that's it. He's established as a hurler now. And, I mean, if Steven O'Brien establishes himself on the hurling team, there's no point in talking to him after that. That is the reality for any of them.

"I can tell you there's loads more. Noel McGrath and John McGrath played midfield for Loughmore this year; they're both excellent footballers. Brian McGrath, their young brother, is coming up there; he's a top class footballer, played wing-forward on the Loughmore team that won a senior county and he didn't look out of place in the slightest and he's only a minor. But he's earmarked for hurling already.

"That's your difficulty. Most of those guys are well capable of playing football at a high level, but hurling is their number one game".

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