'Illogical and absurd'
Leading GAA medic slams closed season as a flawed 'blunderbuss solution' which aggravates burnout problem
AS PRESSURE intensifies on the GAA to get rid of the controversial inter-county training closed season, one of the association's top medics has described it as "illogical and absurd" and says its application to minor players is "an even bigger absurdity".
"Not only does the training ban apply to senior and U-21 players but a lot of people don't realise that it also applies to minors in a way that is utterly unfeasible," said Dr Pat Duggan, a member of the GAA's Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee.
"Inter-county minor players are not allowed train until March 1 and their competitions start in April. That means they have just six weeks, at most, to prepare and unless their clubs have given them a good early season base -- which is rare at minor level -- that's an absolute recipe for disaster."
There is widespread and growing opposition to the winter ban on collective training, especially from managers, who argue that it is not giving them enough time to prepare their players before the National Leagues, and may even be causing the sort of injuries that it was originally designed to prevent.
It is also believed that many counties were secretly contravening it but Duggan says the real problem is that it is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
"I was chairman of the GAA's Medical Scientific and Welfare Committee when this closed season was first introduced, on the advice of a separate committee set up to look at player burnout, and I never agreed with it," he revealed. "To me it was a blunderbuss solution that has huge flaws in it; it is completely illogical.
"It seemed to be brought in directly as a reaction to a high rate of groin injuries, but no one ever actually asked what was causing them.
"This training ban still doesn't address that key issue, which is: how are teams and players training?"
Duggan said that the ban on senior inter-county collective training in November and December may not only fail to be solving the burnout problem but is possibly adding to it, by increasing the training workload in a particularly busy time for some players.
"This is still not dealing with the young players who are doing a training session with their college at lunch-time, and then driving long distances to county training the same night," said Duggan.
"We badly need research into what is causing these injuries. The closed season was based on research into the number and regularity of injuries.
"But what hasn't been looked at is what exactly is causing them, what kind of training is contributing to it?"
Duggan said the GAA should be guided by Irish rugby's guidelines on pre-season training and also by the co-operative training and injury-management systems that have evolved, through necessity, between the national and provincial rugby managers.
Rugby players cannot restart the competitive season until they have put in adequate pre-season training and this is tailored individually, depending on when each player played his last match in the previous season.
"One thing the IRFU have definitely got right is their rules on pre-season strength and conditioning," Duggan said.
"They now have an enforced 10-week spell of strength and conditioning, during which players are not allowed play any games, and that is ideal.
"I know that the GAA allows players to do their own individual pre-season training during the closed season, but working in gyms, on weights, does not equate to a full strength and conditioning programme, which needs to include plenty of running drills.
"On top of that, immediately after the closed season, our county players are going straight back into competitions like the O'Byrne and McKenna Cups.
"If they want to maintain this ban, one help, at least, would be to move those competitions."
Duggan shares the growing view among inter-county managers that allowing counties to nominate their own closed season once they have been knocked out of the All-Ireland championship would offer one solution to the problem.
But he feels that the root problem which was to be addressed by the training ban -- the proliferation of groin injuries -- is still not being solved and that there needs to be a major rethink and redesign of the closed season.