Mentors must tell our young players that less is more
A partial victory but also a temporary setback were the verdicts from yesterday's Special Congress.
Many of the main recommendations on club fixtures were accepted without much argument as was only right and proper but the burn-out committee suffered a reverse. The proposal to amalgamate minor and U21 into one competition lost, that has dominated the news from congress even if most of the other motions, which were very valuable in themselves but won't get much publicity, went through.
At times like this most of us on the burn-out committee might feel that democracy is a blunt instrument for dealing with serious issues but it is the best system going even if in this case I would have preferred a benign dictatorship which would have passed the main proposal for a two-year trial.
The obvious conclusion to be drawn from yesterday is that a big number of delegates don't believe that burn-out exists at all, the belief being that most young lads are well able to handle what is put in front of them and anyone complaining is a bit soft. The other almost universal truth to emerge is that even those who agree with the cause and effects of burn-out won't go along with changing the existing system where the numbers affected are quite small. They don't see the benefits which will accrue to everyone, especially those struggling away at club level, from a reduced calendar of county football which is becoming like a giant octopus, strangling everything.
Last week I finished here by saying that if there was a better way of dealing with the issues raised -- and the medical evidence which now is at least accepted -- then I would love to hear them. Nobody seems to have come up with any sort of rational argument since then, apart possibly from playing the U21 at some other time of the year and finishing third-level games earlier. Both would serve some purpose in readjusting the weight of fixtures in spring on elite players but the overall workload would remain the same so that in reality solves nothing.
In this paper last Sunday there were well-made arguments both in favour of a new grade at U19 and those wanting the status quo; it merely reflected how difficult it is to get rid of any competition.
For me the most pressing arguments were made by Laois minor and U21 player John O'Loughlin. He wanted the U21 grade retained and was quite happy to play with all the other sides in club, college and county at both hurling and football. If he was a star for the defence then to me he became the most compelling witness for the prosecution. Any player who has this amount of teams and competitions needs protection. He says he would be training anyway if he was not playing so the first thing on his prescription should be rest.
It is hard to credit how many managers don't understand the need for something as basic as a good night's sleep while it is much easier to see how those in charge find it hard to accept that, most of the time, less is best for players on a number of panels. Most feel it has to be a slog before there are any benefits. That is an education matter which also forms part of the burn-out committee's remit. And in the traffic of modern Ireland long journeys to and from training are not only stupid but self-defeating.
So John O'Loughlin as an elite player who has excelled in both football and hurling needs someone to tell him that he would be better off with less training and games. His body would have a chance to develop fully, he could avoid overuse injuries to his back and groin and it would mean that he could still be a star in 10 years. Perhaps the reason why some of the great Laois minors of the past have not made seniors or have dropped out of football altogether is due at least to the burn-out factor, it is both a mental and physical thing and dropping out completely is one sign of it. You just can't chase every rainbow when you are young.
A start could be made by appointing a director of football in every county to mind the best players.
This person would have to have the authority to decide where elite players' allegiances lie at each part of the year, what training sessions they should do and try also to get a balance between the competing forces of work/study and play. And if I live to see a man like this stopping a training session to tell the manager that the training is completely inappropriate then I will have died and gone to heaven.
So for, the battle has been lost but Rome was not built in a day and maybe coming out with all this information and trying an immediate solution was not going to work. Next time, people will have much more opportunity to carefully analyse all the facts which may not have been available until late in this debate.
This is not the end of this matter: it is only the beginning. Now the fight starts again to convince sceptics of the need to change. If it that change is a modification and an improvement on these proposals then so be it. Hopefully the committee will have the stamina to continue the burn-out struggle. It is worth fighting for even if it earns the wrath of the players it is designed to protect.