Ruthless county boards are exploiting players as they openly flout the GAA's winter training ban.
The Sunday Independent has established that more than 15 county teams are holding collective training sessions in direct contravention of the GAA's ban. Furthermore, players are not being fed after the sessions, nor receiving travel expenses to attend.
In some cases, as a result of high travelling costs, players who are out of work or studying in college are struggling to make ends meet.
The Sunday Independent spoke to players from seven counties, all of whom asked not to be named, and a disturbing picture of exploitation has emerged. One well-known player, who attends training three times a week, described the way his team are being treated as something you wouldn't have seen 50 years ago.
"Not only are we not getting fed after training but we were told we had to bring our own water," said the player.
"I leave work at 5.30 to get to training for 8.0 and I have to pay for petrol, food and buy water along the way and then drive back up again. It's a crazy system and there is no one under the illusion that counties aren't training.
"We actually went to the county board and asked for food for the team after training. We would have been happy with a few sandwiches, but we were told that they couldn't justify the cost of it."
The same player feels the ban is actually enabling player burnout because younger players are expected to attend "secret" senior sessions on top of their college and under 21 commitments. He also believes that bad management could eventually lead to burnout in older players.
One footballer, who has represented his county for over a decade, expressed extreme concern for many of his team-mates who are being put under financial pressure.
"Many of them are young lads with no money and they are trying to come up with petrol money and money to eat the right food," he said. "Playing inter-county is an expensive business for players these days and the commitment is financially draining.
"I can't understand how the GPA are allowing this to happen. They know that counties are training and that players are getting treated so badly but they are just ignoring it."
COLM O'ROURKE, ANALYSIS PAGE 12
Another disgruntled player said they were under pressure to train this winter because they adhered to the ban last year but found themselves way behind the teams that didn't.
"By the time the club season was over we only got a week and a half break before we had to go back. Last year we were chasing the pack for the whole year. We couldn't let that happen again so right now we are training harder than we ever did," said the player.
"One of our neighbouring counties have not stopped training, they've gone straight through the year. They took a week off after they got knocked out and then went straight back into collective sessions so if we waited until January to go back we'd be way behind."
In many cases, training sessions are being conducted in full public view. Last Saturday, for instance, the St Loman's club in Mullingar posted on its Facebook page that the Westmeath senior squad had been training on the club's astroturf pitch.
And in another instance a Leinster county even organised a challenge game with a Dublin college but called it off at the last minute on advice from their county board. A host of inter-county players have also posted updates on their training schedules on Twitter.
Our attempts to contact the GPA and the GAA to comment on the situation were unsuccessful.
However, it's hard to blame teams for getting on with training as, to date, no county has been found to be in breach of the ban.
Last year it was reported that Cavan were training in Breffni Park yet despite strong words from GAA president Christy Cooney, who said that they would face the relevant punishment, which was that they would lose a percentage of their gate receipts for their home games in the National League, Cavan weren't sanctioned.
The Cavan board wrote to the GAA stating that the team training in Breffni Park was a development squad and that the inter-county players named in a newspaper report were at the ground for rehab work. This was accepted by the GAA.
The controversial ban is set for an overhaul in 2012 following Central Council approval last month. The proposed changes will go before Congress next April and if passed inter-county teams will be allowed back training depending on when they are knocked out of the All-Ireland championship.
The teams that are knocked out at the first stage of qualifiers can return to training on November 15 and the dates are staggered as they progress in the competition. If a team reaches the final, they cannot return to training until December 29. On top of this, a Christmas break will also be enforced for a week from December 21-28.
Sunday Indo Sport