Tuesday 21 January 2020

Colm O'Rourke: Ignoring the burnout problem won't make it go away

The spring fixtures logjam is a symptom of a greater malaise, says Colm O'Rourke

The closed season in football is as open as it could possibly be. All right, there are no games but almost everything else goes for county teams. There are very few counties, if any, not training in some collective form or other as county boards have decided to ignore one of their own regulations.

Of course they will argue that these sessions are not sanctioned by them, they are not paying travelling, medical or any other expenses so even if all the players show up at the same place at the same time it does not mean they are engaging in some form of collective training. In the same way, just because something looks like a duck and walks like a duck does not mean it is a duck.

It looks as if the days of the blanket closed season are numbered anyway. This was only part of a wide-ranging strategy of a committee that I was part of a few years ago. Many of the more important items were defeated at Congress which left the idea of a closed season look a little foolish in isolation. Its main purpose was to give some form of a break in activity to players who were feeling the effects of burnout, a phrase coined to describe the harmful effects of too much training and competition on both the body and mind of a young player.

Naturally, it was going to have a limited effect as many of those who the rule was trying to protect are playing with colleges in third-level competition -- at least that is the limit of their involvement coming up to Christmas so travel and extra training is reduced.

Now there are those who don't think there is such a thing as burnout at all and young players should be well able to play and train several times a week. They should also be able to travel long distances to training and work or study as well. These are in a minority and most people in charge of teams now seem to be giving as much importance to rest and recovery as to training.

The problem remains the multiplicity of competitions in spring. Even many of those who agree with the idea of burn-out don't seem to understand that all these competitions cannot run together without causing problems. Choices will have to be made sooner or later.

In other words, you cannot argue to retain college football, under 21, National League and All-Ireland club competitions in the month of February and at the same time agree that something must be done about protecting young players. The skeleton of the old Railway Cup is being thrown into that mix; it's a competition I really enjoyed playing in but one that is now only throwing petrol on the fire. Maybe the provincial competitions and the under 21s should be held off until later in the year.

The closed season never banned training but did ban normal organised county team training, which many county boards were quite happy with as it saved them a lot of money. In a way then county teams training in November and December is not a mortal sin so long as the training is of the right type -- and the rules are probably going to be changed for next year anyway.

The right training should be concentrated on the rehabilitation of players who have suffered injuries and need particular strengthening work. There are no farmers anymore so a lot of the traditional natural toughness must be artificially created in the gym. Nothing wrong with that either but football is for footballers not sumo wrestlers.

Then there is a lot of valuable work which can be done pre-season on ensuring injuries don't take place. Most counties take a fairly scientific approach to this so a period of time spent in this way before the start of the season can prevent a lot of problems later on.

However, there are some counties where the vomit merchants take over at this time of year.

These are the trainers who believe in maximum punishment, pushing players to the limit and beyond. Some seem to believe that a queue of players getting sick on the side of the pitch is an indication that their training is working. It may be the sort of training needed to join the marines, but not for football even if an occasional session which tests the mental fabric of a player is worthwhile. Those who give up in training will give up in a big game when they are needed most.

So if you happen to wander into a county ground over the next couple of weeks and there are players running about who seem very familiar, you can be sure it is not the county side for next year busying themselves in preparations. And if some of the important county board officials happen to be watching on then you can be absolutely certain it is not an organised training session in contravention of their own rules.

It reminds me of the three wise monkeys: Kikazuru covers his ears and hears no evil, Iwazuru covers his mouth and speaks no evil and, most important, Mizaru covers his eyes and sees no evil.

Sunday Indo Sport

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss