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The club players have their say

NIALL Gartland asks club players across Ulster for their thoughts on the 2021 season…

Joe McFlynn (Carryduff – Down)

1. What club story in your own county caught your eye this year?
Coming from an urban club, it’s been great to see another urban club in East Belfast really take off over the last few years and especially progress this year. Given the enthusiasm that seems to be there it seems that the only way is up

2. What would you like to see changed in Down next year?
For all the stick county boards take, having played games on Friday nights for a number of years is a godsend for players and now others seem to be following suit.

Last year we played the Corn an Dun preseason competition which seemed to go on long after the county team had been eliminated, leaving us playing Monday, Friday league games for several weeks. So, hopefully, Covid permitting, we can get the league underway sooner.

I know loads will suggest for the removal of the backdoor system, but having lost our opening game the last two years, we aren’t complaining.

3. What was the best club game you saw this year, excluding your own?
Looking through the Down Club Championship games from this season, there weren’t too many classics. The Clonduff-Burren semi-final in the championship was probably the hardest game to call before throw-in and although cagey, had some good scores and big hits and went right to the wire.

Outside Down, the Tyrone Championship always delivers. Coalisland had a few dramatic comebacks which were epic.

Niall Allison (Carrickmore – Tyrone)

1. What club story in your own county caught your eye this year?
Jack Campbell from Beragh scoring five goals in the first round of the Intermediate Championship is a story that caught my eye this year. I don’t think it had ever been done in Tyrone before and people are still talking about it.

2. What would you like to see changed in Tyrone next year?
I would like the schedule of the club season to be planned out a bit better this year. Last year we had nine rounds of starred fixtures which was quite a lot and with Tyrone getting to the All-Ireland final there was a good six weeks or more in the summer where the weather was good and we weren’t able to play any games. I felt it really disrupted the season and can kill any momentum a team has, especially just before championship.

3. What was the best club game you saw this year, excluding your own?
As everyone knows the Tyrone Championship games are always exciting with there being so many good teams. So I would say the semi-final between Coalisland and Errigal Ciaran for me was a great watch. The game had everything, Coalisland being underdogs and scoring three late goals to bring them back into the game, Coalisland also having a man sent off, the Errigal Ciaran ‘keeper scoring from play to level the game and then the last kick of the game free from Cormac O’Hagan to win it.

Liam Paul Ferry (St Michael’s – Donegal)

1. What club story in your own county caught your eye this year?
Mark Harley captained our neighbours Chloich Cheann Fhaola to the intermediate title this year. Mark’s brother John sadly lost his life a few years ago who was their captain at the time. Mark lifted the cup with his brother’s jersey around him which just illustrates the spirit of the GAA.

2. What would you like to see changed in Donegal next year?
It is probably harder in our own county as its a lot more expansive compared to other counties in Ulster, but more Friday night league games would be welcomed.

3. What was the best club game you saw this year, excluding your own?
I will go for Glen-Kilcoo. The tactical battle, the intensity and the conditioning of the sides in particular for the stage of the year was a credit.

Garvan Quigley (Belnaleck – Fermanagh)

1. What club story in your own county caught your eye this year?
You can’t look pass the story of Derrygonnelly’s season without admiring what they have done to date. No team has ever achieved senior Ulster Club champions status in Fermanagh, but Derrygonnelly are doing everything in the power to change this when they face Killcoo on January 16. Derrygonnelly are carrying the torch for Fermanagh football and proving on the big stage that the quality of football in Fermanagh is just as good as every other county despite what others might say.

2. What would you like to see changed in Fermanagh next year?
Fermanagh have the smallest number of clubs yet we operate a knockout based championship, and that doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve been playing senior football for three years and only played six championship games.The relegation games played by the losers have not got the same bite and the championship feel has gone out of them. I believe if the players in Fermanagh were given the opportunity to vote then would select a league-based championship with two groups of four teams with two teams advancing to the semi stage while the bottom two are entered into the relegation play-off.

3. What was the best club game you saw this year, excluding your own?
Many people would have earmarked Derrygonnelly against Ederney in the first round as a possible game of the year and they weren’t wrong. The game played under lights in Brewster Park provided huge drama with two dramatic comebacks from both teams.

Aidan McLaughlin (Castledawson – Derry)

1. What club story in your own county caught your eye this year?
This is a difficult one. It would probably be either Glen finally getting over the line so convincingly or Sean Dolan’s reaching a Junior final when no one would have expected it. They are on the crest of a wave. They are building a new state of the art clubhouse and indoor arena. Underage LGFA is thriving in the club and their numbers are going from strength to strength. It’s great to see a female coaching their men’s senior team (Derry star Ciara McGurk). Also, Desertmartin’s continuous improvement with a large portion of hungry young players and talented young coach. Definitely a team to keep an eye on.

2. What would you like to see changed in Derry next year?
Nothing really, We are very lucky that for the last few years we know our fixtures, holiday break and layout of the season. That is brilliant for club players, especially ones with a wife and kids. Things can be easily planned. Our county Chairman Stephen Barker puts players first and we are never playing in November or December like other counties. It’s only when you see what happens in other counties that you realise how lucky you are.

3. What was the best club game you saw this year, excluding your own?
It was a funny year in Derry as the leagues were basically non competitive so most teams used it to blood young players, develop systems and improve individuals. Relegation was through the championship so things picked up then. There were a few good games but not many. Coleraine v Magherafelt or Bellaghy v Newbridge were both entertaining games. I am going to be selfish though and pick a county game as I was on the management team! The All-Ireland Minor final against Kerry which we won was a great game that went to the death.

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