Following the news that Jack McCaffrey has stepped away from inter-county football, could we see more talent walk away ahead of this year’s unique knockout championship?
Issues surrounding inter-county time commitments have been widely discussed over recent months with roughly 60 inter-county players from around the country deciding to opt-out ahead of the 2020 season. Remember, this was pre-pandemic.
There are small victories for some, Tipperary, for example, are set to welcome back All-Star Michael Quinlivan to their panel, something that would not have happened but for the crisis-laden year we’re experiencing.
These are just that though, small victories. Post-pandemic, the issues remain the same.
In fact, they are further complicated.
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Tipperary footballers have received a massive boost as 2016 All-Star full-forward Michael Quinlivan is among four players set to return to the squad. 💪 RTE reports that Quinlivan, Liam Casey, Colin English and Paudie Feehan will return to the Premier football squad when collective training returns next month. 🙌
Not only could fears around social-distancing and a lack of screening turn players away like it has done referee David Gough, but following a three-month break from inter-county action, it’s plausible that some may walk away having realised the time they sacrifice for a game that rarely yields success.
This theory is backed-up by Cork forward Shane Kingston who predicted last month that we may see players walk away from county sides post-lockdown.
“I think it will go the other way, to be honest,” Kingston told Pundit Arena after receiving his Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup Rising Star Award for 2020.
“I think people will come to the realisation of the commitment GAA requires. They’ll be reflecting now on their time off and be like, ‘Jesus, is it worth it?’ I think it will go the other way.”
McCaffrey has become the first high-profile inter-county player to step aside ahead of the condensed season.
The facts remain unclear behind his departure but it’s fair to say he finds himself in the unique and unenviable situation of trying to balance medical work during a pandemic with Dublin’s quest for another All-Ireland.
Oisin McConville echoed this sentiment to RTE Radio One on Monday, however, the former Armagh star insisted there is time for McCaffrey to change his mind.
“We accept that there are players who are going to opt out this year,” said the Armagh man.
“Obviously, anyone who is in that medical sphere is going to be thinking twice and have more important things on their mind.
“But we are talking about a competition that is over three months away. A lot of things can change in that time and I’m pretty sure that Dessie Farrell and those Dublin guys will be holding out hope that things change dramatically.
“The first thing to think about is we probably thought we weren’t going to have any football. Now we are, a lot of the thinking has changed.
“A lot of people will hope that in the next three months Jack McCaffrey might change his mind and be part of that Dublin squad because if we think of the impact he had last year, he’s going to be someone they’d miss dreadfully.”
However, McConville put a fresh twist on why we may see more players follow in McCaffrey’s footsteps citing that the knockout format in place for 2020 may result in players not willing to give up their time. He feels players would rather commit to the club game where they are guaranteed more than a solitary championship outing.
“A lot of players are looking at both the club and inter-county. They’re thinking it’s one chance at inter-county, it’s a lot to put into possibly one game.
“There’s a possibility of getting knocked out very early. Most club championships are round-robin so you’re entitled to three, four, five games in some counties.
“I think players will look at that and I think, ‘it’s a good time to commit to my club.'”
Could giving more time to Clontarf be the reason behind McCaffrey’s decision? He’s talked extensively before about the embarrassment he feels at returning to a club that has given him so much, yet received so little.
Donegal star Michael Murphy spoke earlier this month of the respect that the club game deserves and how both need to compromise if we are to see games go ahead in 2020.
“I’d be all for it (knockout championship),” Murphy told Pundit Arena.
“I do feel – at the start of this pandemic, what did I want? I want football back, whether we’re followers, players, supporters, management, everything. We just want everything back, obviously in a safe way.
“So how do we get football back? We need to get it back at club level and county level. There’s going to need to compromise on both parts there.
“We (Donegal) have a structure where we play our senior championship with four groups of four. So in order to win a championship, you play six games. So there’s a really good opportunity there for us to keep our current structure there in club championship, and for ourselves as county players, to play the whole way through that with our clubs.
“People can say the merits of that aren’t fair but it’s the compromises we’re going to need to make in order to get a sufficient enough of time off the back of the club championship, to prepare for the inter-county championship.”
Maybe the compromise entails players turning their backs on the inter-county game?
Whether that’s over safety fears, time commitments or a desire to focus on the club game, can you really blame them?