Winter training ban leaves new bosses out in the cold
BY the time the managerial merry-go-round creaks to a halt over the next few weeks, 12 counties who competed for the Sam Maguire and Liam McCarthy Cup competitions this year will have new men in charge.
In the case of Laois and Limerick, there are changes in both hurling and football while, in football alone, Cavan, Donegal, Derry, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Mayo, Galway, Limerick, Meath and Laois will be under new management. It's an unusually high attrition rate, which serves as a clear warning to the latest arrivals that the managerial world is an increasingly hostile environment.
Some of the appointees -- Donal O'Grady (Limerick), Eamonn McEneaney (Monaghan), Val Andrews (Cavan) -- have extensive experience, but that provides no immunity from criticism, even in their first season.
Nor does it give them any advantage over their rookie counterparts in terms of preparing for a successful lift-off in the new year. That landscape has changed dramatically since the introduction of the November-December ban on collective training.
It was introduced as part of the campaign against player burnout but whether it has helped is open to debate, since most of the cramming takes place in spring rather than winter. What it definitely has done is place new managers under a disadvantage as they count down the days to January 1.
They are allowed to hold two trial games during the closed season but can't include any players who were on the championship panel earlier in the year. The trials can't involve games against similar panels from other counties or against club or third-level college teams. Programmes for gym work may be given to players but must not be conducted in collective sessions.
It means that collective work can't begin until January 1 and, while that may be okay for established managements and squads, it's quite a handicap for new bosses. They need time to get to know the players but are prevented from beginning the process until January 1.
Pre-season competitions begin in early January, so it's straight into competitive action for teams who won't even have had a challenge game behind them. To add to the problem, third-level colleges have first use of county players in January.
Croke Park argues that the November-December ban on collective sessions protects players who, under previous arrangements, were often brought back to training in late September, more than four months before the start of the National Leagues.
That was pure madness, but now the pendulum has swung too far the other way. It would make more sense to declare October-November as the closed season and allow squads to resume training on December 1. It would then be up to managements to decide if they wanted to take up that option or delay the start until January 1, as is the case at present.
The November-December ban was introduced with genuine intentions, but how successful has it been in the battle against burnout? Does it not lead to cramming in January, at a time when many young players are facing into a crazy programme of fixtures in different grades with county, third-level colleges and, in some cases, club teams?
The failure to distribute fixtures on a more even basis throughout the year remains one of the biggest challenges facing the GAA. Even now, club championships are being shoehorned into a short period in some counties, presenting players who were left idle for months with a hectic schedule.
Meanwhile, many players whose counties exited the championship in June or July, and whose clubs were eliminated from the local championship weeks ago, are left idle until January.
Their solution? Join rugby and soccer clubs where they will get regular action.
Nobody is suggesting that it's easy to organise a streamlined fixtures programme in an organisation which caters for a multiplicity of competitions at county, club and college level across various grades in two codes. However, that's no excuse for not putting it at the top of the agenda and working diligently until the very best systems are devised.
They certainly do not include leaving so many top inter-county players out of the shop window between early July (when the qualifiers begin to pile up the casualties) and early February. It's a very competitive sporting world out there and the manner in which the GAA concede the high-profile market place -- especially on TV -- to rugby and soccer for so long after the All-Ireland finals needs to be addressed.
First though, they might consider adjusting the closed season, if only to give new managers a chance to work with their players on an official basis. Changing it by a month would be a major help.
Rebels making most of belated visit from 'Sam'
They waited 20 years for his reappearance in their midst, and now that he's there, Cork are certainly keeping Sam Maguire busy.
They have posted details of his travels for the next three weeks on the Cork County Board's website and also provided an email address for clubs and schools that want to welcome him personally.
Paddy Kelly and John Miskella (right) will be taking him on a tour of Ballincollig schools today and the show goes on every day for the next three weeks at the very least.
The county board have asked for patience, urging all interested parties to wait their turn and not to expect Sam to visit them immediately.
"Remember, we have the Cup for the rest of the year," they advise.
Question is -- will they have it for a few years?