Club-only month ‘not working for anyone’, says three-time Galway All-Star

Updated Apr 16th 2019, 8:40 AM

THREE-TIME ALL-Star Damien Hayes believes that the GAA club-only month is “not working for anyone”, and has expressed his concern for the future of club players.

The Ballyhale Shamrocks players celebrating their All-Ireland triumph on St Patrick’s Day.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

April has been designated as a month which is exclusively dedicated to club activity while the inter-county schedule is put on hold ahead of championship.

The intention behind this policy was to alleviate fixture congestion, but the Portumna veteran insists that it is not having the desired effect in Galway.

When speaking to The42, Hayes explained that two championship club games have been scheduled to take place in his county this month while the remaining ties will be played in September.

Four-time All-Ireland champions Portumna have already faced Group One opponents Turloughmore this month, and will take on Castlegar in their second April outing on Sunday.

“It’s just hard to get momentum and get lads willing to buy in and if you lose those two games, you’re effectively out of the championship,” the former Galway forward said.

“We’re training since January for two games in April. Then you’ve nearly three months off and then you go back training for games in September, it’s very stop-start. I do give out about it, there’s no point saying I don’t.

I just think it’s terribly unfair for the club player. The club is where you start and where you finish, and I can vouch for that. It’s just not healthy and I would be very worried for club players down the line.”

Hayes added that Portumna will finish up training after the game against Castlegar at the weekend as the quiet period for the club game sets in, with three more championship clashes to prepare for in September.

But a defeat on Sunday would present the Portumna management with a significant challenge in terms of ensuring players commit for the rest of the season.

It’s not working for anyone,” says Hayes.

“You’re training to try and peak for the month of April. It’s very difficult for a trainer to try and get lads to commit and try to keep their hurling sharp for two games and then that’s it until September.

“From a business point of view, you wouldn’t be able to financially afford to pay a trainer to stay coming down for a couple of months. Every club is in the same situation.

Oliie Canning lifting the trophy for Portumna after winning the 2014 club All-Ireland.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“And then when you go down [to training] and only 10 lads turn up, lads start getting annoyed and start bickering and wondering, ‘Where’s this lad, where’s that lad?’

“So after the game against Castlegar, whether we win or lose, we probably will not train again until June.”

Portumna have gradually regressed at senior level since their most recent All-Ireland triumph in 2014.

A defeat to Mullagh forced them into a relegation play-off last year, while Turloughmore inflicted a 4-18 to 1-12 defeat on them earlier this month.

Hayes played his first year of senior club hurling for Portumna in 1999 and announced his inter-county retirement in 2015. But while the club is not as competitive as they once were, he never had any doubts about lining out this season.

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Fellow club stalwarts Ollie Canning and Andy Smith are also trucking on for another year.

I’ll stay hurling with Portumna until my body won’t allow me to anymore,” says a proud Hayes.

“It’s not all about winning. We’ve lost players to retirement and emigration but I’m enjoying the training and I love going down.

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“I’ll go back this year and I’ll probably go back the following year. It’s the way I am.

“We’re not going to win a county final this year and last year we fought a relegation final, but I always say [that] it’s good for the pride of your parish because you love hurling.”

Reflecting on Portumna’s glory days, Hayes admits that he always knew their time in the spotlight was finite.

Hayes called time on his Galway career in 2015.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

It was simply a case of maximising the star quality that was in their ranks at the time, a method which generated plenty of success for the club.

Hayes rhymes off the 28 major competitions they won during that period, including six county championships, seven senior leagues and four club All-Irelands between 2006 and 2014.

Eight players who featured in that 2014 triumph are still involved with Portumna, according to Hayes, but their place in the order of Galway clubs has changed.

“I knew this group of players would never come again and with this bunch of players, we made the most of what we had,” says Hayes.

The Kilkenny players that won 10 All-Irelands will never be seen again. It was the same with us and we had to make as much hay as possible and reap the rewards, and we did.

“It is difficult and it gets frustrating [now]. But it happens to every club around the country. There were times with Portumna when we used to have 33 or 35 down training some nights.

Now, you’re getting anywhere between 12 and 18 down there. Things have changed but you try to remain as positive if you can.

“We’re a real proud community and we’ll do our best. Nobody’s under any illusion, we won’t win the county championship this year but it’s still important that we compete and do our best.

“We’re putting huge emphasis on our juvenile section at the moment and we’re starting from scratch and hoping that something will come through.

“I’m involved myself with the U6s and that’s just the way it is.”

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