In association with
When Queens University Belfast appointed Conor Deegan ahead of this season’s Electric Ireland Higher Education campaign they knew they were bringing in somebody with a wealth of experience.
A double All-Ireland winner in his playings days with Down, Deegan has forged a successful reputation as a manager having overseen clubs such as Dublin heavyweights Kilmacud Crokes and Ballyboden St. Enda’s during his time living in the capital.
Upon moving home after 16 years, Deegan moved into the inter-county game with the Down U20s. A hectic schedule got even more cramped when he took on the challenge of managing one of the most recognisable colleges in Ireland.
According to Deegan, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it, there aren’t many differences in the day-to-day role of managing a college team with players happy to be involved in football at any level.
“There’s not an awful lot of difference in many ways. The bottom line is, they are all footballers and all want to play football. As you move up through the clubs and into U20s and colleges the real factor is still the drive and determination but obviously, with the colleges you’re now dealing with county players/panellists and county managers.
Deegan recognises that college players have a large number of demands on their plate with county, club and work life. He attempts to make their time in the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup as easy and enjoyable for the Queens players as possible but believes they are being pulled in too many directions at the one time.
“Everybody wants a piece of the pie. I know ourselves in Queens, we’re very keen and very much aware of dealing with players and making sure they are fit and healthy rather than anything else.
“They’ve got demands, we’ve asked them when they could be there and you can’t do much more. The difference with the county is that most of these boys are studying, they are not at work, they are actually trying to develop and start a career.
“I know boys on the county panel are looking to build careers too but it is a different mindset altogether with exams and the pressures that all brings so it’s about trying to get that work/life balance.”
Deegan dismisses the notion that the environment within a college set-up is more relaxed than at inter-county or at club level. The end goal is still the same, to win, however, he’s aware that given all the pressures facing the players at this time of year, it’s important that they have that downtime.
“The boys turn up, they want to be there. They do want to win, they want to compete. They get enjoyment from that as much as anything else. That’s what happens when you go to that elite level. That’s what drives them on and spurs them.
“So, you’re trying to facilitate that but you have to have the understanding that the lads have partners, girlfriends, boyfriends, whatever. They have to have downtime, they have to go out and enjoy themselves and unless you get that balance right, they are not happy and they are not going to be performing at their best.”
One of Deegan’s main responsibilities as an Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup manager is working with inter-county bosses to best manage the time and welfare of their players.
He suggests that allowing a footballer to do their inter-county work within the set-up of a college will aid all parties involved.
“Look at Queens, for example. We’re blessed in Queens, absolutely no doubt about that, we have Gavan Duffy as the GAA Administration Officer and he’s top class. He knows everybody, he understands, has contacts and you can use him and lean on him to your advantage.
“You have Mike McGurn who is one of the best strength and conditioning coaches about. You’ve Shea McAleer, one of the top physios about.
“So when you have that at your disposal, we’re happy to let them do their own county thing but do it here under the guidance and tutelage of these guys because they will keep an eye on them.
“You are cutting down the time, the time they are travelling, the time they are having to be away from studies, you are just making life that wee bit easier for the player. Now there are times you question and say would that not make more sense across the board, not just from our perspective.”
One of the biggest challenges for Deegan and his fellow college managers is preparing their group for an intense competition when players have many other responsibilities. Regardless of the other matters that they have to juggle, he maintains that education remains the top priority in Queens.
“It is a short time frame, unlike the joy that county managers have. They are maybe there for two or three years, four or five or in Mickey Harte’s case 25 (laughs), you know, you have that time.
“Realistically, it would have been October before we saw them. They’re not all back in college at the same time so when you try to pull them all together you’re not really getting them until October/November. You have them two months and then December is silly month and amongst all of this, you have exams which you really have to prioritise.
“Certainly in Queens, education is of the utmost importance also, as it should be. It is an exceptionally difficult one to get right but it’s within the players best interests.”
Electric Ireland’s Sigerson, Fitzgibbon and Higher Education Championship campaign, FirstClassRivals, showcases the unique trait of these historic GAA competitions that sees unexpected alliances form when fierce county rivals put aside their differences to play together, challenge together, and win together.
Electric Ireland is proud to support the Higher Education Championships and will live stream a selection of Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup games. Watch the games and follow the Championship at www.electricireland.ie/hec and be a part of the conversation on social media using the hashtag, #FirstClassRivals or visit @ElectricIreland on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.