Wednesday 28 September 2016

Imposing professional demands on amateur players is a recipe for trouble

Published 04/01/2016 | 02:30

Mayo captain Colm Boyle leads the team out for the FBD Connacht League game against NUIG at MacHale Park yesterday Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Mayo captain Colm Boyle leads the team out for the FBD Connacht League game against NUIG at MacHale Park yesterday Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

The New Year sees many people, including senior inter-county footballers and hurlers, make resolutions.

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From what we can gather, January 1 is the date by which many players must give up drinking alcohol and remain abstemious until their county is knocked out of the championship, including the Qualifiers.

This is but one example of the ever-increasing regimentation of GAA players, from the top level down to club teams.

In theory, the alcohol ban is but one of the many components in team preparation ruthlessly imposed by the majority of county managers - an approach that was brought to new level by Jim McGuinness with Donegal.

He got Donegal to win one All-Ireland and that, of course, justified every aspect of his strict training regime. "Didn't they win the Sam Maguire so what more do you want?" is the stock response to any criticism of his methods.

Over the years 'the Drink' has often been a big topic of conversation with team managers and ordinary GAA supporters.

It was often used as the explanation for a star player having a really bad game. If a player was seen in a pub or a night club, it was assumed by the anti-drink brigade that he had to be drunk that night, even though he might have been a teetotaller.

Most good managers have always been able to manage the drink issue through negotiation on a one-to-one basis rather than by panel diktat.

In the past, there was rarely a complete embargo on drinking even in the summer championship season. Instead, good managers were nearly always able to achieve the same thing by their own man- management expertise. Thankfully, a few still do that.

But most present day managers are not interested, it seems, in that sort of friendly co-operation and instead have brought in a total alcohol ban.

Dictatorial

It is only one of a litany of dictatorial measures by managers and selectors against players, often without consultation.

This is ironic because never before in GAA history have county players been so well represented as they are now by the GPA. And players are also very confident in their ability to fight managerial disciplines and controls.

If you doubt that, ask the recent Mayo football and Galway hurling managers who were shafted by players in each case.

Most of the recent developments in team preparation are very welcome and bring modern medical, coaching, fitness and psychological developments to bear with great success and are of great benefit to individual players also.

However, GAA players are amateur as opposed to professional and it is debatable if their personal lives should have to be so ruthlessly controlled in every aspect as many managers seek to do.

Mandatory abstinence from alcohol is just one example of the limitations on personal freedom imposed on the top players.

Working men are being asked to train at 6.30 in the morning. Young men can be absent from wives, partners and children for five nights a week for half the year. Severe dietary limitations are being forced on players even though some of them may hate the stuff they have to digest.

The stock reason given for this regimentation is to improve the physical conditioning of players in line with developments in other sports. This is fair enough up to a point. But have skill levels in Gaelic football improved over the past 20 years in line with the considerable advances in fitness and conditioning?

Also, we now have fewer counties being regarded as realistic All-Ireland champions than at any time in the past 40 years.

And people can judge for themselves generally if the game is now more enjoyable for spectators.

The big question is whether amateur players, with many non-sporting commitments, should be subjected to what are essentially professional demands without the rest days that the professional sportsperson enjoys.

The fact that so many inter-county players opt to take round-the-world trips, take long breaks from the games and, above all, decide to retire in their early 30s certainly raises serious issues about modern team management procedures.

The most damning statistic is that in football the ratio of training sessions to games is around nine to one - something no other major sport allows.

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