MOST would agree that common sense prevailed last night at Ruislip, when the senior clubs in London agreed to play a round of the Championship two months earlier than scheduled.
This move helped to circumnavigate the recent rule amendment regarding player eligibility for the county team introduced by Congress.
The importance of this decision can not be underestimated in its value to Paul Coggins and his team as they continue to prepare for the Championship showdown with Leitrim in five weeks.
The County Board and the clubs have been generous both in spirit and in finance to the London footballers this year, especially with helping to facilitate the team’s entry into the FBD League at the start of the year, an expensive but invaluable exercise.
Having said that, the clubs are always generous to the county team, given that it is them who find players, recruit them and then often sort them out with them work and accommodation.
In return for all this, the clubs gets to see their players only after the county are finished with them and in far too many cases in the past, especially for those smaller clubs, find that as soon as their player starts playing with the county, the next thing he’s asking for is a transfer to one of the so-called bigger clubs.
It’s happened too many times for there not to be a connection there somewhere.
So as I say, for the clubs it’s often give, give, give and from the County Board and team’s point of view, it is always take, take, take.
Last night was no different, as certainly the arrangement that is in place now will suit few of the clubs, but in the spirit of the game, and in support of Paul Coggins and his panel, they voted in favour of it. Some will no doubt regret it later in the year.
But back to the current topic.
Coggins, being the sort of guy he is, will be extremely grateful to the clubs for their generosity and understanding.
Of course there is the risk that clubs will say: “Well, if we have to play Championship in the next few weeks, then we need to have our players now.” They’d be right to say that.
The London management then have the challenge of trying to keep the momentum going on their project, while not overloading the players with training and game commitments. A whole year’s work could be undone here if it is managed poorly. But other counties handle these circumstances, so I am sure Coggins will see a way around it.
As we stand, with the odd exception of any player who may be injured and therefore unable to play in the Championship for their club, we can assume that London will have their full compliment of players going into this game against Leitrim, given that all, or at least most, will have had the opportunity to “qualify” themselves by playing club Championship.
We can assume, but we can’t be sure.
You see there’s another side to the coin as well. Not every player will have decided to play for London with the intention of also playing for a club side in London. We know this to be true just by considering past history.
There will be players who have promised their clubs at home that they will be playing Championship for them in 2012, and the player’s involvement with London was merely about getting the opportunity to play football at a high level while working or studying in London.
By no means am I saying that this applies to all the players, but we only have to look at recent years to see it will apply to some. No sooner is the London commitment over, than the transfer form goes in.
This has become far too common a practice since around about 2005 or so, when four of the London team that year played their club Championship at home and always had intended to.
It wasn’t so much that the rule was there to allow them to do that, but it was more that the rule didn’t prevent them from doing that.
For these guys, their loyalty was to the London county team, not the county of London. There’s a huge difference. It’s easy to be loyal to a group of lads that you share a changing room with for eight months of the year.
I’ve never been a fan of handing out county jerseys too easily, although I fully appreciate that it is almost impossible to ignore the quality of certain players who arrive in London, regardless of how long they may have been in town.
Indeed, as a selector on the county team, I was party to such an action when we played Eanna Kavanagh in 2007, despite the fact that he had only just transferred to London from Dr Crokes in Kerry, and had never played a game for London prior to the Championship match against Leitrim.
Eanna trained with us all year, mostly to serve his commitment to Dr Crokes and their pursuit of All Ireland glory and was too good a player to ignore.
It is no slight on Eanna at all that I mention him, he’s a thoroughly decent man and a very good footballer. All he did was to make himself available for London, it was us the selectors who chose him. By 2008 Eanna was no longer available for London.
Speaking from my own experience as a player, I was in London six years before I played senior county football.
By that stage I’d played in six Intermediate Championships and one Senior Championship and I’d played two years as a minor for London, five as an under-21 and one as a junior before I got that senior jersey.
It would be another three years after that before I had the chance to play Championships.
So I had what most would call the traditional apprenticeship in county football and when I did finally get a senior jersey, I was very proud of it indeed. London is, and always will be, my county.
The fact is I’d never have had the chance to play for any other county as, plain and simply, I wasn’t good enough for a level higher than London were operating at at the time. In fact, many would say I wasn’t even good enough for that level. But that’s a debate for another day.
The longer I played, the more bemused I used to get to see complete strangers walking into the changing room and getting games for London, on occasions without ever having played a club match in London at all, there purely on reputation, word-of-mouth or necessity and desperation on our behalf.
The thought that always ran through my head in these instances was simply: “What can this mean to that man?”
The answer was usually: “Nothing.”
Hopefully Paul Coggins has moved London on past there as he, like myself, had a long and frustrating apprenticeship with London and an equally long playing career.
What you’d be hoping for now with London is that there is a sense, as players look around the changing room, that they are surrounded by players who deserve to be there and have earned the right to be there. If that’s the case, then Paul has done a good job.
Where the cracks might appear now is if players opt off the county panel because their intention was always to play at home in 2012.
Paul and his team will exert a certain amount of pressure on them and try to persuade them to stay, but there’ll be just as much pressure coming from the other direction as well.
It could be that Paul will lose a few players and if he does, then so be it, it’s certainly better than losing the 12 he was in danger of being without prior to last night’s vote.
Next year, whether it is Paul or someone else in charge, they will be better informed when they go to pick their squad for the National League.
The County Board will have a choice of whether they want to move a round of the Championship forward on a permanent basis to avoid a repeat of this year’s scenario, or whether they will just be telling the county manager: “You know who’s available and who’s not, so pick your squad accordingly.” But at least they’ll have the chance to plan.
Congress pulled a stroke against London with this move and to change the rules of any competition half-way through a season is unacceptable. There is no point distinguishing between National League and Championship, as for players and managers, they are all part of the one process.
Maybe Croke Park should hold their hands up here and apologies a little for pulling the rug from under London in the way that they did. Although, it could be a long wait for that apology.
Finger pointing aside, the clubs in London did the county and the county team proud last night. It was a result I myself wasn’t expecting, but what a result.
Now all the London players have to do is repay the club’s faith in them by firstly, to a man, opting to play for their clubs in the Senior Championship and secondly, going on and beating Leitrim.