'Gunk' of postponement leaves Martin Boyle fearing for Ulster Minor Football Championship
DERRY minor manager Martin Boyle said it came as a “bit of gunk” to his players when they were informed by email at 4.30pm on Christmas Eve that their Ulster semi-final was off, and he now fears the Championship may be pulled completely.
The young Oaks were due to line out against Tyrone this Sunday, a day after the North's blanket ban on sport comes to an end, following their Ulster quarter-final victory over Armagh on December 20. However, with Level 5 restrictions now in place in the Twenty-Six Counties, that game, scheduled for Clones, and Monaghan's last-four encounter with Fermanagh at Breffni Park are both postponed, with a new date yet to be pencilled in.
“We had heard rumblings that the south going back into a Level 5 lockdown and we knew what that meant. So on that level, the decision to postpone wasn't a big surprise,” said Boyle.
“However, I was hearing as late as Wednesday [December 22] that the GAA were confident that the minor games in Ulster would be given elite status, allowing them to go ahead. So to get the email at half 4 on Christmas Eve that the games were off came as a bit of a gunk to the players. The rug was pulled out from under them, if you like.”
And with the South's tough restrictions set to last for at least the next fortnight, Boyle fears the viability of this year's Ulster Minor Championship could be at stake.
“The Level 5 lockdown in the South isn't supposed to end until January 12, and it could go on for longer. This leaves Ulster even further behind the other provinces. My fear is they'll just pull it,” the Ballinascreen man added.
“There was real disappointment among the lads when they learnt the game was off, but if they've learnt anything from this year it's resilience. They know they'll have to just keep ticking over because when the call comes it won't be giving them two weeks' notice.
“These players have been through the mill this past year and, as far as county football goes, nobody has suffered more than the minors. We're back to bubbles of 15, which means we can't get practice matches in either.
“The Championship was pulled before Halloween and now again at Christmas, but it's nobody's fault. The boys are used to it at this stage.”
Although Roscommon battled through Storm Bella to beat Sligo in Saturday's Connacht minor final at the Claremorris Centre of Excellence (1-5 to 1-2), yesterday's scheduled Leinster final between Meath and Offaly was also pulled, leaving Headquarters with a fixtures headache.
“The worry is that with the Connacht final played yesterday, Kerry already winning Munster, ourselves in Ulster and Leinster are going to find it impossible to catch up. The GAA definitely has a problem to deal with.
“They now have to find four weekends to complete the schedule if they want to bring it through to the All-Ireland final stage. Do they want to go ahead with it in February? According to the new calendar, we've a new Championship starting in March.
“It would be unfair to the players to have to go again in March. I was supposed to be looking at new fellas to bring onto the panel this month, but that's obviously out the window. Whoever is on the panel for the new Championship should be afforded the time for proper preparation.”