Laois lead charge in war against winter training ban
THE ban on formal training for senior inter-county teams in November and December is about to be hit by a series of missiles from around the country.
As opposition to the ban increases, there's every chance that it will be removed at Congress next April or, failing that, could face a significant change.
Laois have launched a formal bid to allow training resume on December 1 and it's understood that other counties will submit alternative proposals for change before the deadline for Congress motions closes next Wednesday.
Opposition to the ban has been growing steadily amid claims that a measure that was introduced as a weapon in the war against burnout among young players, in particular, is proving counter-productive.
It's alleged that preventing squads from undertaking formal training until January 1 and fixing pre-season games for a week later is increasing the risk of injury.
Laois will base their call to allow training resume on December 1 on player welfare and fairness platforms.
"We believe the current system is wrong for two reasons," said Laois chairman Brian Allen. "Weaker counties are being penalised because they don't have as many players to call on.
"They have to play the January competitions without college players, which is a disadvantage compared with bigger counties who have a much greater pick. It's unfair that any rule, however well-intentioned, would give an advantage to one county as opposed to another.
"We also believe that it's unfair to prevent squads training together until January 1 and then send them straight into competitive games. They're going in cold, which increases the possibility of injury. If we're to start pre-season competitions on the second Sunday in January, we've got to allow squads to train earlier. We think that December 1 would be a sensible start date."
Laois are prepared to compromise on the training ban by changing the dates but it's likely that others will call for its total abandonment. There has been a loud managerial outcry -- especially from those who have just been appointed -- for the restriction to be lifted on the basis that it's serving no valid purpose and is, in fact, doing more harm than good.
It was introduced a few years ago following a recommendation from a high-powered committee, which found that burnout among players had become a major problem. They argued that it was illogical for squads to return to training up to three months before the start of the new season.
Their research had shown that burnout was a serious problem among players, particularly those in the 18-21 age group, who were working with several different managers at county, college and club level.
There was little opposition to the introduction of the ban when it came before Congress but once its impact became apparent over a few seasons, opinions changed dramatically.
Apart from the difficulty of sending players back into county action a week after returning to formal training, there have been claims that the ban has been ignored in some counties, where collective training continued in direct contravention of the rule.
Croke Park have argued that it's up to county boards to implement the rule but it's widely believed that some have ignored it. There's also concern that the rule is being circumvented by squads getting together in November and December for fund-raising activities such as charity boxing tournaments.
That allows them to train collectively prior to the events but since, technically, they are not preparing for GAA games, no rule is being broken.
However, much of the gym work is similar to what would have been undertaken if squads were allowed to carry out pre-season GAA training without a time restriction.
It's now clear that, at the very least, there's an urgent need for a comprehensive discussion on the training ban. The Laois motion -- and others which are likely to follow -- will present that opportunity.
Despite the growing clamour for a repeal of the winter training ban, there will be stiff opposition to any move to revert to the previous system, which allowed squads to begin collective sessions at any time.
That led to some squads, which had been eliminated from the championships by mid-July, returning to training in late September, more than four months before the start of the National Leagues.
The Laois motion seeks to limit rather than abolish the training ban, a compromise which could prove popular.
"We think it's a sensible solution," said Allen. "There's a lot of unease over the current situation."