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06th Dec 2023

“January is the hardest month for them” – thinly spread players ready for another early-season madhouse

Niall McIntyre

The Sigerson Cup was a very different competition when Maurice Sheridan won it.

That was some 30 years ago, it was back in 1992 and, first things first, the final was played in mid-March.

Some National League games were played pre-Christmas back in those days, according to Sheridan, which meant that players had more time between games, and more time to focus on their Sigerson Cup campaigns.

Whereas nowadays, it’s much more full-on, with games coming at some third level players with no let-up whatsoever throughout January.

Meath manager Colm O’Rourke touched on this January jitterbug in his Sunday Independent column last week, when he mentioned how one of his star players Shane Walsh pulled his hamstring early on in the year.

Having starred for Meath against Cork in the National League on a Sunday, the DCU player then tore his hamstring so badly the following Tuesday in a Sigerson Cup game, that he missed almost the entirety of Meath’s season as a result.

O’Rourke says that he nearly ‘blew a head-gasket at the time,’ and that the ‘black smoke is never far away’ when he thinks about it now.

Tommy Conroy knows all about it too, having torn his cruciate while playing for NUIG back in 2022. That ruled him out of their Sigerson Cup winning campaign, and also saw him miss a full season with Mayo, although he will be playing for the Galway college in the coming weeks.

These are harsh examples, not every thinly-spread player is going to get injured, but it’s an insight into the impact too many games can have.

University of Galway manager and former Mayo player Sheridan tells us that it’s the inter-county players in his squad that will face the most testing time.

“It’s extremely hard on the players that are involved in the inter-county teams,” he says.

“The demands are so high on them.

“All the inter-county teams were allowed to go back training on November 24.

“So we don’t own them from then on, if you know what I mean.

“Every young man wants to play for his county, so his county has the first call.

“You have to bear in mind that they have exams as well, so I think January is the hardest month of the year for them. Injuries can happen too.”

Sheridan says that, ‘in an ideal world’ players would be allowed to focus solely on Sigerson Cup throughout January, before going back to their counties thereafter.

“But I can understand the lads, that they want to play for their county teams. That’s every young man’s dream.

“That would be something. If we could play the whole of the third level competitions in January, and if we just had that month itself,” adds Sheridan, whose Sigerson Cup team begin their campaign against TUD on January 10.

The National League then begins on the last weekend in January, with pre-season competitions taking place earlier again.

Given the limited access he and his fellow Sigerson managers have to all of their players, he agrees that comparisons could be drawn between their role and the role of international soccer managers. You make the most of what you have.

“That’s precisely it.

“You have them and if you get going on a roll, they all buy into it. It’s the buy-in at the start of the year, if you’re able to get that.”

All that being said, he’s still excited for another roll of the dice.

Three of their starters from the winning class of 2022 are still on the team, and they’ll be hoping for similar joy come the middle of February.

“The intensity is the same as it was (back when he won in 1992.) The competition is the same and it’s still extremely hard to win.

“Since 1984, we have only won it three times. Three times in forty years, and it’s wide open again this year.”

Pictured at the draw of the Electric Ireland GAA Higher Education Championship at Croke Park today is University of Galway football manager, Maurice Sheridan.