Colm O'Rourke: Closed season conundrum throws up more cranky managers than workable solutions
Published 17/01/2010 | 05:00
I s it the weather or does every county manager at this time of year want to join the cast of Grumpy Old Men? There has been a chorus of complaints about the closed season, the new rules, the lack of preparation for upcoming games and anything else that is going. Talk about putting out a healthy picture of the GAA.
It is hardly likely that supporters will be at daggers drawn for players and managers if they don't perform well in any of the secondary competitions, but often managers start off with a negative before games and try to turn it into a positive afterwards. Have you ever heard a manager extolling the virtues of his own team before a big game? No, it is always how good the opposition are. It would be great to see some manager come out and say his team is in great shape and he expects them to win.
I'm not holding my breath on that one but I am quite prepared to let these experimental rules run for four or five games before passing any type of judgement. Managers and players should do likewise. The kneejerk reaction is almost always to say no. Perhaps in time all those with vested interests in the organisation might see some benefits.
To accept and indeed embrace change is the opposite of the paranoia which grips the GAA at all levels and which inhibits change. There are always people who sense some type of conspiracy -- maybe all the conspiracy theories about JFK were written by GAA members.
Having served my time on a range of high-profile committees such as the group who introduced the back door and the closed season, I am acutely aware of the difficulties of 'the committee'. To get agreement among members is often hard enough but no set of proposals emerges without huge efforts in time and thought.
Anyway, the closed season is topical at the moment, and rightly so too. All aspects of GAA life need constant questioning. If there is a reasonable belief that there is a better way of doing something, then it should be tried. This is my approach to education where there is massive need for change, except that what is accepted as best is often blocked by those most directly involved. It is the same in sport and everyone needs to look at the way things are done and seek to improve them. No time then for those who criticise without suggesting a better way.
This is part of the closed season dilemma as that proposal was only one of a number of complementary ones which the committee attempted to introduce at the time. The other high-profile proposal was to abolish the U21 championship in favour of an U19 competition. Most people accepted there is mental and physical burn-out in a small number of elite players and something had to be done about it. Reading the subsequent torrent of pro-U21 championship views, it was hard not to feel a bit queasy about those who see no need to change.
The upshot of all our deliberations was a closed season which is an imperfect solution on its own. Training for many vulnerable young players goes on harder than ever, with those who should know best, those at third level, usually the worst offenders.
Managers who feel they can't get their teams together before January are quite right to air problems but a ban on collective training does not mean no training. A proper individual training programme during November and December should be in place to avoid injuries. That is accepted best practice. And the vast majority of footballers train all year round and are very conscious of keeping themselves in good shape. The days of a player arriving back to training after Christmas with a bit of a tyre are long gone; a bit unfortunate too as that group were often those who enjoyed football most. It seems more like an endurance test for many now.
Of course a new manager can't see his players in action before January which is a big drawback yet county boards are happy as it saves on training expenses. Another complication is third-level players being tied to their colleges so county teams can't have a full complement until the league starts, while the rest period should vary depending on when a team is knocked out of the championship. Imagine policing that one when some counties ignore the existing arrangements.
So what are the possible solutions? Going back to pre-Christmas league matches is hardly a runner and neither is getting rid of third-level competitions which are a valuable apprenticeship for many players and administrators. One way is not to start any competitions until later in January, although pushing leagues back would pose other problems, especially for clubs. Another way would be to allow collective training from the middle of December -- without any challenge matches. However, players might prefer to get the turkey into them before getting out into the biting cold.
Another way would be for everyone involved in the problem of squaring the circle to get on with it and say that it is great to be fit, healthy and able to get back playing. Otherwise, someone should come up with a complete remodelling of the whole fixture structure. Now there's a job for a proper committee. Count me out but all interested parties should contact Croke Park immediately.