Saturday 23 September 2017

Cormac Byrne: Australia drawing a line in the sand over alcohol is an example to follow

Wallabies head coach Ewen McKenzie
Wallabies head coach Ewen McKenzie

Ewen McKenzie tough love routine has left his side short on options this weekend but his side will benefit long term.

There’s not a GAA, soccer or rugby team in this country that would countenance their star players going on a knees-up on the week of a big game.

McKenzie came into the job after the disastrous British & Irish Lions series, when the culture of the group was questioned under previous coach Robbie Deans, who selected James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale after they had been out at 4am days before the second Test.

They had not been drinking put their actions were detrimental to his side and painted the team, management and players, in a very poor light.

It was a very brave decision from McKenzie given that it comes on the back of Australia's best performance of the year by a distance and it augurs well for his tenure.

As with any touring side, there was no alcohol ban or curfew imposed but Brian O’Driscoll got it right during his speech last when accepting his honorary doctorate in DCU.

"It's not a case of doing what is asked of you , you have to do more to achieve what you want to achieve,” he said.

Great teams in any sporting code are defined by what they do off-field as much on-field.

Cratloe, who had seven members of the All-Ireland winning Clare team in their first XV, gave an excellent example of this at the weekend.

On Saturday they secured their first ever Clare football title and that result should have been the catalyst for a massive party but they had to play in a Munster semi-final less than 24 hours later.

While their friends and family celebrated, the players stayed in and had tea and played cards and beat Waterford champions Ballinacourty by two points when they were ripe for the picking.

Despite the Wallabies commanding display on Saturday where they completely dominated Joe Schmidt’s Ireland in every facet of the game and the performance of Nick Cummins, who was reprimanded today for his conduct, we should not start dismissing the fact that alcohol affects performance.

The science on this subject is vast and undisputed.

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes your kidney produce more urine, drinking too much of it can lead to dehydration.

When you’re dehydrated blood which carries oxygen and other nutrients to your muscles slows and your body starts to burn sugar rather than oxygen and lactic acid develops which leads to pain and cramps which are not pleasant.

Alcohol also inhibits you body’s ability to make energy because your liver is too busy metabolising the alcohol to create glucose leaving your blood sugar level low.

The fact that it is high in calories and can inhibit muscle gain cause long term problems and in serious cases can lead to unusual heart rhythms.

The effects on players and team can also be psychological also.

Seeing a minority of the squad downing pints into the early hours while the rest are tucked up in bed, preparing correctly can breed contempt within a group.

The Aussies can at least be glad that their extra-curricular activities didn’t land them in any trouble and they avoided the dwarf-throwing and ferry-jumping that marred England’s Rugby World Cup experience in New Zealand two years ago.

The drink culture in sporting sides is largely gone in this era of big wages and big responsibility and representing a team, whether it be a country, town or parish, doesn’t end when you leave the pitch.

McKenzie’s stance may cause some short term angst but he’s thinking towards the World Cup in 2015 and he’s right to do so and others could follow suit.

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