Laois manager John Sugrue.
Laois senior football manager John Sugrue is eagerly anticipating the O'Byrne Cup this weekend, as the 2019 season begins a month early.
The O'Byrne Cup is a much maligned competition, and with its latest incarnation being brought forward by a month to ensure to gets played in time, there are plenty of critics who feel it has run its course.
Sugrue isn't one of them though, and he feels it still has a role to play. “These are prep for the league, and as opposed to organising challenge games, these are great games provided, they are open to the public so it creates a bit of atmosphere.
“The calendar is certainly an issue I think, it's a huge issue between the club and the college scenario, I think the club and the college are the two major things that need to be sorted out, and I think if you saw those being sorted out you'd see the intercounty being sorted out as well.
“I think it was mentioned there lately about finishing the All-Ireland Club in December, which I think would be a fantastic idea. Then maybe the colleges should run before December too, because lots of times in the New Year you have college players being pulled left, right and centre, U-20s are starting up and then you're getting conflicts of interest across the board.”
Laois were penalised not so long ago for going too far in their preparations for the Leinster Championship, but the plans for 2019 are coming along in a less controversial manner. “It's cold and wet, but it's grand to be back at it. It's been a long time since we played so I'm personally really looking forward to getting back out with the lads and seeing where we are at after the extended break.
“We're back at square one as far as I'm concerned, and we need to see if we can develop a little bit of momentum again this year.”
This Saturday night will give both the Laois footballers and supporters the chance to see, at close quarters, the new rules which are to be implemented for the pre-season competitions.
Sugrue admitted that Laois hadn't made any special plans to prepare for the new rules, due to the uncertainty of how and when they would be implemented. “It's probably a reflection of the way the whole thing has been run, on the 26th of November they are making a decision about whether they are going to go ahead with them or not, so then what's the point of preparing for something that might not occur?
“Now, we are in the situation where we might go ahead with them for these couple of games, and then we'll review and see whether we'll go back on it or not.
“I think if the GAA as a whole came up with a bit more clarity for players and for managements, then I think it would be a bit more beneficial to everyone and then we could move forward with it. We're only going to chat about it today really, for the first time properly.”
Sugrue was also critical of the fact that public opinion was only sought on the rules after they had decided to introduce them, rather than beforehand. “They came up with the rules and then sent out a circular to see what people thought of it, as opposed to getting people into a room first and saying 'these are the issues'.
“Get players and managers into a room and say that these are the issues we're finding with the game that are taking from it, what are your suggestions?
“So, I don't know what way the process worked but it is kind of all up in the sky and we'll play with these rules for the O'Byrne Cup, but who knows if they are going to be there for the national league or not.”
While the new rules will dominate the headlines for the foreseeable future, another topic which is never too far removed from public discussion in football is the introduction of a 'B' championship.
The Laois boss is not averse to the idea, but would have reservations about how it is structured. “The concept of a B championship is grand, I have no issue with it so long as it is properly marketed and properly structured.
“The one thing I would say though is that it should definitely not be confined to Division 3 and 4 teams, and maybe I'm biased now because I'm involved here, but there are teams in those Divisions who are really getting their acts together, and if it was based on last years performance, I don't think we would have been in a B championship, based on the qualification terms of last year.
“But, there are certainly teams in Division 1 and Division 2 who maybe don't have their house in order for the championship and then I think it should be open for all four Divisions, not just 3 and 4.”
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