Time for rethink on Winter shadow play sign of changing times
ENDA Kenny hasn't raised it in the Dail yet but it can't be far away now because Mayo men, especially those of Fine Gael persuasion, know things. What's more, they are disturbed by the knowledge and sincerely wish that somebody would do something about it.
They claim that far from dozing contentedly in front of the fire on cold November and December nights, some inter-county panels were watching the rising of the moon from dimly lit fields. And while there, they carried out training drills in flagrant contravention of the diktat that renders it illegal to hold collective sessions until January.
Connacht Council secretary and proud Mayo man John Prenty claimed in his 2009 report that the ban on November-December training had been ignored by some counties.
"I think it's fair to say that a coach and four has been driven through the regulations. Every trick in the book has been used to camouflage what's going on. It's hard to understand how counties went to Special Congress and voted unanimously to bring in a closed season and then ignore what's going on," he wrote.
It will be interesting to see if Prenty returns to the training issue in his 2010 report next month, but, in the meantime, Mayo manager John O'Mahony has alleged that the rules were broken again this winter. He believes that some counties trained collectively in November and December and, as a result, will have an unfair advantage over others when the National League starts next month.
Neither Prenty nor O'Mahony publicly identified the transgressors but the allegations raise the very interesting question: who are the secret trainers?
And why are they of such interest to Mayo? O'Mahony declined to name the rule-breakers on the basis that it is not his function to police the training ban.
As one of the most senior officials in the GAA, Prenty, who was O'Mahony's election agent in the last general election, might be expected to back up his allegations with names, but he too declined. In fairness to O'Mahony and Prenty, nobody wants to be branded a 'grass' but, at the same time, it's futile pointing a finger in a general direction without a specific target.
Actually, it's unfair since it leaves every county -- other than Mayo of course -- open to suspicions of flouting the training ban.
Croke Park are well aware of the claims of illegal training but can't act without detailed information. Even then, what are they to do? Send out undercover teams to sneak in under the bushes on dark nights? Put CCTV in place? Pay 'moles' to alert them to secret training?
The logic behind the ban on training in November-December was based on player welfare and, in particular, the need to give inter-county panels a break. In theory, it looked a good idea but it has now become apparent that it bestows a distinct advantage on some counties and managers.
The likes of Kerry, Tyrone and Cork (football) and Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford (hurling) have no reason to return to training in November-December since their managers are embedded in the job and know exactly what they want for the new season.
It is altogether different in counties where the panels are less settled or where new managers have taken over. Rightly or wrongly, they believe they can't wait until January to begin working with the squads -- hence the temptation to break the training ban.
Bans are very crude instruments in an area like player welfare and, after two years of allegations that teams are training illegally in November-December, it is time for a rethink.
Everybody knows that no action will be taken against counties who break the ban because (a) it is very difficult to prove and (b) there is no appetite for moving against players/managers for trying to improve their prospects of reaching maximum efficiency.
How bizarre would it be to punish a GAA player for training for Gaelic football/hurling, while no action could be taken against him if he filled the close season by playing and training with a rugby or soccer club?
The thinking behind the training ban was well-intentioned, but, in practice, it hasn't achieved much. Where burnout exists (and, in fairness, it only applies to a tiny minority of players), it is caused by too much training and too little co-ordination between managers.
Banning collective training in November-December has merely added another unnecessary rule, which will never be applied. Meanwhile, Mayo seem to be the only county who are exercised by rumours that others were training, while they themselves play by the rules. Now who could they be talking about?
Leinster Croker request sign of changing times
How times have changed. It took the GAA many years to agree to open Croke Park for rugby and soccer, but, having got a taste of its earning power, they can move fast nowadays.
Confidential memos seen by the Irish Independent show that IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne made a formal request to the GAA on January 8 on behalf of Leinster to stage last Saturday's Heineken Cup game against Brive in Croke Park. It was done on the basis of the dismal weather forecast which applied at the time.
The GAA's Management Committee agreed to the request, after which Central Council members were asked to vote on the proposal by phone or email on January 11. However, as the weather improved, the request for the use of Croke Park was withdrawn on January 12, thus robbing the GAA of a nice little earner.
Still, it shows how easy it is to open Croke Park to rugby and soccer. It makes you wonder what all the fuss was about pre-2005 when there was such a wide divide on the issue.