News Eugene McGee

Thursday 18 September 2014

Taking a stand on burnout

Published 10/11/2008 | 00:00

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Up to a year ago hardly anybody had ever heard the word 'burnout' in relation to football and hurling. Just like 25 years ago when nobody knew about 'hamstrings,' while, in modern times, we have only just become acquainted with 'Gilmore's groin' and 'fractured metatarsals.'

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But one of the great things about the GAA is the way our vocabularies keep on expanding in response to reports from Croke Park committees -- and so it was that burnout became part of the Association's lexicon.

There was a big summit of GAA chiefs in the form of a Special Congress last spring in which 'burnout' was discussed in depth under the aegis of former Dublin star Dr Pat O'Neill, a leading international authority on sports injuries, who chaired a committee on the problem.

Initially, very little was done to solve the problem, but at the highest level in Croke Park, particularly at the instigation of Director General Paraic Duffy, we soon learned that the GAA was serious about 'burnout.' Getting something done is of course a very different matter.

Burnout simply means that some players are being flogged to death at training sessions and matches for certain periods of the year, owing to fixtures chaos at several levels of the GAA. This must be contrasted, of course, with what happens at other times when players can go anything up to 12 weeks at the height of the summer without playing a competitive game. The only 'burnout' players get then is if we get a very hot summer.

'Burnout' can have very serious consequences for many players. A rush of matches and training can cause players to ignore injuries and play through the pain barrier. It is only when it later emerges that serious medical damage has occurred that the players concerned realise the error of their ways. Some then go through long periods of rehabilitation, often up to a whole year in the case of the infamous Gilmore's groin injury which is one of the main effects of 'burnout.'

'Burnout' means that players are abused, for there is no other word for it, by their own team mentors and ultimately by the GAA bodies who railroad through these fixtures without any consideration for their welfare, particularly the younger ones. Apart from injuries, 'burnout' expresses itself through lack of interest, fatigue and generally some players saying to themselves: "To hell with this I'm getting out of this rat race until the GAA get a proper fixture programme." That my friends, will be the day!

I write about this now because we are in the middle of one of the two 'burnout' seasons, October and November, which is caused by a pile-up of club matches in all grades. County boards insist on steamrolling these together so that in December they can boast about how efficient they are having completed all local competitions within the calender year.

Yeah, sure, but at what price? By abusing these amateur players? Last Wednesday night the Kerry Intermediate football final had to be played midweek in order that the winners could play in the Munster championship this weekend. An important senior relegation match was played in Roscommon last Friday night.

All over the country it is a the same and if I were to ask readers to provide me with examples of this sort of chaotic fixture-making I would get 100 replies before lunchtime. It has been that way for years.

In Wexford, however, the players of the Kilanerin club decided to take a stand that may yet turn out to be very significant. After winning the Wexford county final last Saturday the players decided in the dressing room that they would NOT play their first-round Leinster club game scheduled for the following day against Navan O'Mahony's, who thus received a walkover. That meant that one of the stars of the game, Matty Forde from Kilanerin, was deprived of performing in the All-Ireland club championship.

In Waterford they went even further some weeks ago when it was decided that, because the football championship was running so late, the county would not be represented in the Munster club championship this year. That is some way to promote football for those dedicated to the game in Waterford.

Several players are being asked to play a big county championship game on the Saturday and then a provincial club match 24 hours later. Within individual counties similar pile-ups are in vogue at this time of year and the availability of floodlights has added to this carry-on.

The other major 'burnout' season is February and March when third-level players are involved in the closing stages of their own competitions as well as provincial U-21 competit-ions, plus the national football league. Small counties have been forced to play a provincial U-21 game on a Saturday with five or six players from that team playing a crucial national league game the next day. This is absolutely disgraceful abuse of young men by provincial councils and if central authority means anything in the GAA, an order should come from Croke Park to stop such abuse.

'Burnout' IS a serious problem in the GAA but it is only now even being mentioned by the majority of team mentors from U-12 to senior. Managers simply flog players to death and most never give a damn about the consequences. The worst 'burnout' affects dual players aged 17 to 21 who can often be involved with up to 10 teams.

The GAA made one small stand against 'burnout' this year when banning all inter-county training and matches in November and December. But a lot more is needed. In particular, the GAA must take steps to have a regular programme of club games in the summer. That would eliminate most of the pile-ups which contribute to 'burnout.' County team managers are the biggest culprits in this and need to be reined in a lot of counties.

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