Ulster bosses want McKenna Cup back: Brian McAvoy
THE Dr McKenna Cup could be in line for a shock return to the inter-county calendar in January – if it gets the green light from Croke Park.
With the advent of the split season, which comes into play from next year having been voted in by the GAA's Congress back in February, it was widely anticipated that the traditional provincial pre-season competitions would fall by the wayside.
The new model will see the 2022 All-Ireland finals take place in July, therefore condensing the inter-county campaign to allow for the start of the club season, with the National League due to get under way on the weekend of January 29/30.
Most club championships are only finishing up around this time after a delayed start to the GAA year, with Ulster club campaigns to come in December and some finals down for decision in mid-January.
However, with counties allowed to recommence collective training from December 15, the GAA has now given the go ahead for challenge matches to take place from January 1, 2022.
And, according to Ulster GAA secretary Brian McAvoy, the "overwhelming feedback" is that county managers in Ulster would prefer to reignite the Dr McKenna Cup rather than seek out challenge games – with Central Council to make a decision on the matter on November 20.
"If we have a McKenna Cup, and that's a big if because it may not be permitted, it would obviously have to run in January before the start of the National League," said McAvoy.
"With regards Ulster, the team managers would prefer to play it than play challenge games in January. That's the overwhelming feedback we're getting.
"The feeling would be that we're still running in a very condensed period, we now have a split season which we didn't have the last time the McKenna Cup took place [in 2019], so we need a view from them [Central Council] on it.
"If the counties want it, I think it can work, but it is a very intense period with the split season."
Yet while the majority of Ulster counties may be for the McKenna Cup's return, there are also major concerns in some quarters about rushing players back into competitive action just over a fortnight after the resumption of training.
Post-lockdowns, a period of four weeks was widely accepted to have been the minimum requirement for players to get up to speed and to avoid panels being struck by a catalogue of injuries.
With the National League starting in the last week of January, however, it is therefore not feasible to run the McKenna Cup from the middle of the month.
"If you're not returning to train until December 15, you're only getting two weeks before you're back into a competitive match, or at least a semi-competitive match - some would feel they shouldn't be back playing until later than that, which is understandable as well," said McAvoy.
"Most of the counties aren't even finished their championships yet, but the fact Croke Park has now said you can have challenge games from the first of January has maybe changed things in the view of some managers."