It's about time Fitzgibbon Cup and its players got the respect they deserve 7 months ago

It's about time Fitzgibbon Cup and its players got the respect they deserve

God bless Keith Ricken.

Hail him, clone him and worship that man to the high heavens.

He's a county manager who gets it.

"I get requests to release players and I laugh," he said recently to Balls.ie.

"Because it’s like I’m a prison warden – I never have and never will stop a lad playing with a club," added the Cork Under-20 manager.

Well hallelujah. Ricken isn't the first and he won't be the last inter-county manager on the end of requests about player availability, but his response is what sets him apart.

Game's gone a little bit wild you see. So strict and so regimented is every aspect of the modern inter-county game that prison wardens will be soon deemed fit for the sidelines. It won't be long before their experience of commanding control and ruling with an iron fist, will become a requirement in GAA management interviews.

But while the sand heads sink, the cream rises.

Cork, under Keith Ricken, went onto win their first All-Ireland under-20 title in ten years.

DJ Carey isn't usually one to criticise but after IT Carlow's win over Mary I in Saturday's Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final, the Kilkenny selector just couldn't hold it in.

His team had just won but for a man like Carey with such pure grá and passion for the game, the end doesn't always justify the means. He lamented the fact that some of his players were put through "very, very heavy training sessions on Wednesday and Thursday."

It's the life of an inter-county player who all too often these days, is being placed in situations they never knew they'd have to face. What of the fella who is held so far back from his club or college, that a wedge is created between him and his close friends. These lads are in it for the thrill of it too, remember.

From a manager's perspective, running the legs off a fella less than 48 hours before they play in an All-Ireland semi-final for another team is not a marker nor a statement, it's childish treatment that will come back to bite you.

Laois' only ever hurling All-Star Pat Critchley told us a good story not too long ago.

"I remember Pat Dalton was coaching me in the basketball and I’d always remember when I started to concentrate a bit more on the hurling, I would say to him - Pat I can’t make that game on Sunday, we’ve a National League game," recalled Laois' only ever hurling All-Star.

In today's 'how much do you want it' landscape, Critchley would have been dropped and made an example out of.

'Yeah sure no worries Pat,' was his coach's response, 'I’ll see you Tuesday.'

Critchley wouldn't forget it.

"That Tuesday night then, I’d train like bejaysus for Pat Dalton"

An inch of understanding goes a long way.

The GAA could do with more characters like Critchley and Ricken because they're the lads who give us all, players and followers hope. It's the Fitzgibbon Cup thrillers between UCC and DCU that keep us going.

It's Jason Cleere's fetching, Cathal Dunbar's finishing, it's the spirit of Jamie Wall's Mary I team, that would inspire even the most single-minded of Gaelic football fans.

And when you see Mark Coleman swinging one over with the clock up, and players from Cork, Tipp, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny and Kildare going wild in the rain, you realise just what a special competition the Fitzgibbon Cup is.

It's time it was treated that way.