Tuesday 27 September 2016

Eugene McGee: Let's have more league games and less costly, futile training

Published 20/04/2015 | 02:30

Alan Brogan, Dublin, in action against Cathal Sweeney, Galway. Senior Football Challenge, Dublin v Galway, Skerries Harps GAA Clubhouse, Skerries Co. Dublin. Picture credit: Ray Lohan / SPORTSFILE
Alan Brogan, Dublin, in action against Cathal Sweeney, Galway. Senior Football Challenge, Dublin v Galway, Skerries Harps GAA Clubhouse, Skerries Co. Dublin. Picture credit: Ray Lohan / SPORTSFILE
Alan Brogan makes his way onto the pitch for a challenge game between Dublin and Galway in Skerries yesterday

This is the in-between season in Gaelic football where teams are criss-crossing the country as managers set up a series of challenges games designed to prepare them for the championship.

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Some counties begin their championship campaigns in early May but most have a further four to seven weeks to fill in before they set out in their pursuit of glory.

As I've said many times before, it is a costly business running an inter-county team nowadays, and that cost is becoming an increasing problem, particularly among the smaller counties. There is a ridiculous amount of training going on - you're at nothing now as a county manager if you can't effortlessly rack up 100 sessions.

And every training session means a manager and invariably his burgeoning backroom team having to be paid expenses, while the players also must get their out-of-pocket money in the form of mileage.

And now there is always a medical person, a strength and conditioning expert and a physio required to look after all the modern injuries which seem to involve at least half a dozen players in every squad sidelined at any one time.

Afford

It's all well and good for nine or 10 big counties who can afford all this largesse, but there's a lot of others who are either going further into debt or being forced to cut corners.

It is time the GAA had a look at its structures and tried to make sense of what is happening. County boards depend on their own championships, inter-county league game receipts and Croke Park handouts to keep their shows on the road.

Most have a sponsor but very few are getting big money through this system anymore.

It's a tough environment for county executives, balancing the desire to be successful with the need to watch the bottom line.

These 100-plus training sessions are carried out for what? The less successful teams might only have nine serious games in the season - seven in the league and two in the championship.

These counties end up training ten times more than they play, which is a costly and also a pretty futile exercise.

I've long felt that the GAA should get rid of all those meaningless pre-season cups - O'Byrne, McKenna, McGrath and the FBD Leagues - and introduce a proper home and away league format.

The current system allows some teams three home games and four away, whereas a system where a team played every other county in their division at home and away would be fairer, and it would also give every county seven home games, meaning they would bring in nearly twice as much money in gate receipts from the league.

Having a league season running right through the spring - where say Dublin play Kerry this week in Croke Park and the following week in Killarney -would open up a better vista for both players and followers.

Every proper league in every sport works on the fair system of home and away.

Such games coming back to back are a great way to market fixtures and promote the GAA. Often there is a feature of one game that could last a full week and be resolved the following weekend, generating plenty of publicity.

Critics will say that there aren't enough weekends for the above to happen. As things are presently constituted, that is true. But it is time to tweak the season to suit players and fans. I have no doubt that if players got to a level of fitness, 14 league games would cut out the need for many of those training nights.

There is nothing like meaningful game time - unlike the challenges I've seen recently, where 15 players have come off the bench for one team. I am a firm believer that there are far fewer injuries from playing than from over-training.

And by having the league running right up to championship time in mid to late May, it obviates the need for this costly running around the country looking for challenges to keep tuned up as well.

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