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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 19 June, 2019
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'I think the ruling on it is a complete and utter disaster' - Loss of players to USA hits Longford hard

Manager Padraic Davis must plan without four of his squad for the championship.

Longford boss Padraic Davis must plan without star midfielder Darren Gallagher.
Longford boss Padraic Davis must plan without star midfielder Darren Gallagher.
Image: INPHO

LONGFORD MANAGER PADRAIC Davis has bemoaned the system that prevents USA bound Darren Gallagher from playing against Kildare next Sunday despite the midfielder not being set to fly out from Ireland until late June.

Gallagher was a central figure in Longford’s league campaign, on the scoresheet in every game and finishing with a total of 2-22 on the board from seven matches.

He had informed Davis last October of his plans to spend the summer abroad but remained involved in their league schedule. GAA players are not eligible for sanctions to play in the USA if they have been involved in an inter-county championship game that summer.

But with Gallagher one of four Longford players unavailable as they are heading away, Davis feels the transfer system should be reviewed.

“Darren Gallagher is a huge loss, I believe he’s one of the best midfielders in the country, I think he’s proven that over the last two years.

“I knew from October he was going but he came in for the National League, he ended up our highest scorer by some distance from midfield and obviously played his part in keeping us in Division 3.

Darren Gallagher celebrates at the final whistle Darren Gallagher celebrates Longford's victory over Meath in 2018. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“He’s gone, Rian Brady from Mullinalaghta is gone, Dessie Reynolds is also gone, our wing-back from last year, and Peter Lynn. It’s a difficult one.

“I think the ruling on it is a complete and utter disaster. For instance Dessie Reynolds wanted to go to New York this year because he has club-mates and family out there, which means he couldn’t play one National League game for Longford. That’s the ruling of the New York board.

“The San Francisco board and the Boston board and the Chicago board have a ruling whereby you can play National League but you can’t play championship so we have Rian Brady, Peter Lynn and Darren Gallagher, they’re not going until the end of June but none of these boys can play against Kildare.

“So there’s something drastically wrong there. Darren Gallagher played his last game with us on 24 March and he’s not flying until 29 June. I could easily get three championship games out of Darren, Rian and Peter.

“It makes absolutely no sense at all. For me that seems bizarre and it’s certainly something that has to be looked at.

“Look it, it’s disappointing to lose those lads but every team through injury or America or whatever, there’s going to be absentees. It’s unfortunate those lads are missing, we have to move on, replace them, other lads are to come back from injury so we’re not that bad.”

Davis looked set to face an onerous task when taking charge of Longford in the league, coping without the Mullinalaghta players who were planning for an All-Ireland club campaign. Yet Longford made a bright start which was integral to the preservation of their status in the third tier. The Leinster club winning heroes have been successfully reintegrated into the county squad with Davis hoping to harness the positivity generated by their achievement.

Mullinalaghta celebrate with the trophy after the game Mullinalaghta players celebrating their Leinster final victory last December. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“They’ve come back in and were really up the speed of it within three or four sessions. Obviously they’re very good footballers but they’re great guys too. We got a great response out of them.

“It could have been very messy. I suppose in the past when a club got a big run like that, they may have decided to stay away from the inter-county scene for one season. They haven’t decided to do that and of the eight of them called in, seven of them are in and one (Rian Brady) gone to America.

“We’re waiting since 1968 to win a Leinster title, that was the last time Longford won it. For these lads to come along, it’s an extraordinary story. They basically have achieved the impossible with a population of 440 odd people. It doesn’t add up at all. I hope we can build on it for years to come.”

Mullinalaghta’s achievement was elevated by the manner in which the odds seemed to be stacked against them. It’s a scenario Davis can relate to after a lifetime immersed in Longford football, including a lengthy playing stint as a permanent fixture in the forward line.

He’s not certain of the best solution to the current ills afflicting Gaelic football but he does feel change is required as he sketches out Longford’s predicament.

“Last year we drew Dublin, Kildare and Meath in the championship, traditionally the three strongest teams in Leinster. If we were to account for Kildare, we’d have Dublin in the next round. I think we’ve drawn Dublin so many times since 2009 or ’10. There would appear to be some bit of an imbalance there.

“Down through the years as a player and as a mentor, all the great days that you remember is playing teams of a similar level whereby you got your win or may have lost marginally. There’s not a lot to be taken out of for a lot of the middle of the road teams in Division 4 or Division 3, being hockeyed by Dublin in Croke Park. 

“I played 12 or 13 years for Longford, when you look back how many big days did we have? We took Kerry in a National League game back in 2004 and that was probably the biggest one we had.

Stephen Lynch celebrates Padraic Davis (right) in Longford's win over Kerry in 2004. Source: INPHO

“Yes we won the O’Byrne Cup in 2000 and that was basically it in a 12 or 13 year career. Whereas you piece something together where it makes it worthwhile, where there is a championship trophy for those middle of the road teams, I think it would be a good idea.

“You hear other people, they’re not for it for whatever reasons. I don’t understand it but having been in the system for so long, I think we need to look at change.”

Davis does remain a fan of the provincial system but despite Longford having enjoyed some brilliant experiences in the qualifiers, he is unsure of their value.

“There’s been so many scalps and Longford have had a great record in the qualifiers, so you ask are the qualifiers dated, do we need something else? I think they are. I just think we need to move on with something to just give us a greater idea of where we’re going. 

“Look it I do think we need more than two trophies. I think there have been so many teams in the past that have been good enough to win a provincial title, an All-Ireland was a step too far. Westmeath in 2004, Cavan in 1997. I just think we need to retain the number of trophies that there is, five at the moment, four provincial and Sam Maguire. We don’t want that reduced certainly to two.

“Maybe the provincials are going stale as well. I like the provincials, I think everybody should have a crack at one of those trophies but again it’s an argument that could go on forever. It’s something that’s going to have to be thought out.”

Davis had spells at the helm of Longford U21 teams and enjoyed a successful club stint in Leitrim with Mohill. Appointed last September in Longford, he is now in the senior spotlight as he takes his side to Tullamore for Sunday’s quarter-final against Kildare.

Longford's manager Padraig Davis Padraic Davis during Longford's 2011 Leinster U21 final against Wexford. Source: James Crombie

“I miss playing, I only do this as a replacement for playing. Yes I’d like to have a career that had some success in terms of medals and trophies, it wasn’t to be but I’ve certainly no regrets from that point of view. I enjoyed every bit of it.

“Back when I started to play for Longford, the belief wasn’t there. Then the minors came in 2002 and 2010, won Leinster titles, Leinster finalists at U21 level in 2011 and 2013.

“I think lack of belief is not as evident as it once was. Certainly with a core group coming there now, they do believe in themselves, the Mullinalaghta story has certainly helped them. We’re looking forward to the championship, that’s what it’s all about from a players and management point of view.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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