Tuesday 27 September 2016

Tomás Ó Sé: The amount of time involved for inter-county players is scaring me

Published 30/01/2016 | 02:30

It’s a big year for Tommy Walsh who’ll be hoping to be wearing less of the tracksuit top and more of the the green and gold jersey at Kerry matches Photo: Sportsfile
It’s a big year for Tommy Walsh who’ll be hoping to be wearing less of the tracksuit top and more of the the green and gold jersey at Kerry matches Photo: Sportsfile

If I was to step into a time capsule, whip 20 years off my age and get ready to embrace inter-county life in the most modern context, would I be looking forward to doing it all over again? Honestly, I don't think do.

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Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of what I have seen and experienced and ultimately liked about the dressing-room I signed out of after 2013.

The science being applied, the very firm reasons for everything being explained, the direction being given, proper stretching, analysis of opponents, all of that I enjoyed. And found necessary.

Being with a more successful county makes it that bit easier too to motivate yourself to give so much of yourself because you know there's a better prospect of something at the end of the line.

But the investment of time is really beginning to scare me.

On the cusp of another inter-county season you have to ask the question: is it gone too serious?

When players in some counties almost have to log in their movements away from the team environment, you have to wonder is it being taken too far?

I'm glad I saw a different way. What I see in a 21-year-old now is so much different to the 21-year-old I was. I certainly wasn't being killed like they are now. We trained hard, just as hard as players now, but there was switch-off. Now? I don't sense that emphasis on rest is there enough.

One thing to leave your kit-bag in the corner at a quiet time of year but it's another thing to open your fridge door and see the labels laid out in chronological order or check into your emails and see the latest clip drop or the latest bit of advice to set you thinking again. The cycle, it seems, is never-ending.

As players, we trained hard, but we played hard too. I'd say the balance was about 60/40. Today it might be as high as 90/10.

It grates me personally when I hear teams back training in November and even October, irrespective of how early the previous season had been parked.

Teams training through Christmas? Give me strength.

There may be physical benefits, but what is the collateral damage mentally? You simply can't be a footballer all year round but it's very much leaning that way now for the best guys in some cases.

I used to consciously switch off from the middle of November to early January every year. I wouldn't look at a ball, weights. Not even a field for a run.

I'd put on weight though I'd be clever enough about what I'd eat. But if I wanted a steak I'd have it. Same with a pizza or a pint.

Now my sense of it is that I wouldn't get away with those small little privileges. And my time in the dressing-room certainly wouldn't extend 17 years.

A change in the calendar would help. And I like what I see from Páraic Duffy's document last November that is aimed at condensing the season and lessening the load considerably.

If there is one man at official level I admire in the GAA, it's Duffy. If you go through most of his answers, they're solid and have clarity.

I can't agree with everything he ever says but squeezing the calendar year by the margins proposed makes perfect sense.

Why does the Ulster final always have to be played on the third Sunday in July anyway? Why can't all the provincial finals be brought back to two weekends at the end of June and early July. The league finals can go earlier too and clear real space in April for county players to return to their clubs for a spell.

My return as a club footballer with Nemo Rangers in Cork last year gave me another perspective as to how the club player is suffering against the tidal wave of inter-county football. You never see it from the other side but in the months of June and July we did next to nothing.

By the end of November we were still at it, playing Clonmel Commercials in a Munster final in atrocious conditions. What a shame to have a game like that go so deep into the season.

Personally, I've grown weary of the routine cries about championship restructuring and the madness of the season. We either change it, or we don't. But you have to bear in mind that it's impossible to please everyone.

If you accept that the provincial championships are here to stay - and I'd be in favour of that - then the scope for change is quite limited.

My own idea of a better championship is to adopt something like the proposals put forward by my fellow county man and former GAA president Sean Kelly some years ago, splitting the qualifiers into two groups of 16 where the gaps in standards are lessened.

The game itself is, by and large, fine. I wouldn't tinker with it too much. I'd like to see more ball contested for out around the middle of the field and that will require working around the rules governing the kick-out.

But we just have to accept that it has changed, that it has, for the most part, become a possession game where risk isn't encouraged. If the game is defensive it's because it's teams like to establish the terms for a counter-attack.

But if you look at Dublin's tremendous performance in last year's All-Ireland final, played in the worst possible conditions for the time of the year it was, you can draw some comfort that the game is in better health than we sometimes think it is.

The immediate chasing pack won't concern themselves too much with the league. Different teams will want different things out of it - more often than not it's not about the trophy.

If Kerry can find a player or two, win enough games and keep it ticking over that's as much as they will expect to get from it. It's a big year too for Darran O'Sullivan, 'Gooch' and particularly Tommy Walsh. They need these guys to be making a difference.

Mayo might have a little added pressure after dispensing with their previous management, a situation I personally feel should never happen.

But having said that, if they felt backed into a corner over it you have to wonder about the level of communication between players and their county board.

You never see issues like that in Kilkenny, Kerry or Dublin. Or at least you never hear about them.

In Kerry, I'd have to say the lines of communication between board officials and players was always strong.

Did the Mayo board sound out the players prior to making that appointment in 2014? Very often players will have that bit of knowledge as to who they want and who the best fit is.

Even the Irish rugby squad was apparently balloted about the captaincy with Rory Best selected. County boards won't always get the best person but consultation is a must. Mayo won't have to make much of a fuss in this league. Like Cork they must do their talking in the championship.

The teams to interest me most over the next couple of months are Cork, Tyrone and Roscommon. I sense something stirring again in Tyrone, while John Evans and Kevin McStay will be polar opposites. John's impact can be sharp, but brief. I expect Kevin will get the most out of them.

Overall, I don't see the order of things changing too much. Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, maybe Tyrone, plenty of moaning and groaning about structures, defences and welfare.

A few simple changes at Congress will help things along and I sincerely hope paralysis in the face of change won't strike delegates.

Roll on the games.

Irish Independent

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