GAA Football

Top players will still want to dedicate themselves to inter-county game says Derry boss Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher will get most of his Derry players back together this week, as they look ahead to National Football League and Championship action next month. Picture by Rory Gallagher
Neil Loughran

DERRY boss Rory Gallagher does not believe the coronavirus-enforced delay will affect the amount of time top inter-county players dedicate to the game as panels return to training this week.

The inter-county season ground to a halt in mid-March as the pandemic took hold but now, six months on, county managers are able to get their panels back together ahead of the resumption of the National League on October 17/18.

Following a prolonged period without any sport this year, many believe it could and should lead to a reassessment of the time commitment given.

A 2018 study from the Economic and Social Research Institute found that players can spend up to 31 hours per week on their senior inter-county commitments, often compromising on personal relationships and general downtime as a result.

However, Gallagher – whose Oak Leaf outfit resume their Division Two campaign against Longford – does not expect a sea change in the mentality of players across Ireland.

“Ah not really, the minute we go back we’ll probably be consumed by it again,” he said.

“I’m not so sure I bought into that report and I think there’s too much negativity about at times. Elite players want to be playing at the elite level of any sport. They want to be totally committed to it, they want to put the time into it.

“Could we be smarter about how we cut travel out of it? Absolutely. But I’ve yet to see players not wanting to come to train with their county or their club.

“It’s not for some players, there’s maybe been too much dramatised of the couple of players who don’t want to play – that’s their own choice. Most players love playing club and county football, and speaking to the players who are out of the championship, they’re mad to train.

“The bottom line is you can’t build relationships and develop an understanding as a team unless you physically spend time with each other all the time.

“We were starting to get to know each other well and starting to build a good spirit, friendships. That’s something I miss sorely with the Derry players.”

A club/county split season has unfolded this year as a consequence of the pandemic, but it looks likely to be a permanent fixture in the future, with momentum behind the proposal having grown in recent months.

Gallagher admits he was originally opposed to any compressing of the inter-county game, but has changed his mind after seeing the impact it has had on players.

He said: “Inter-county is the showcase nationally and in so many ways, so I probably would have been reluctant to shorten the season.

“We had until the third week in September, then it was brought back to August and now it could potentially be brought back to July, but the counter to that is if you’re able to give the club game the right exposure and that ran through August, September, October, that would be good.

“The reality at the minute is at the end of the National League and club-only month, you’re still training with the county team, then back for the club championship and club league games – nobody wants to be missing those games.

“I definitely see that players are much more at ease when they’re only having to focus on one thing, whether that’s county or club. Footballers want to play as many games as they possibly can. It takes the pressure away from them.

“That’s the big thing - they don’t like being torn, and I can see the way they’re enjoying playing for their clubs.

“It also gives great clarity to the club players as well. As much as there has been a bit of negativity, the fixtures have got better in recent years in a lot of counties. We are making progress, and if it’s to be a split season and that proves a success, we’ll all be happy.”

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