Sport Gaelic Football

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Director general Paraic Duffy warns GAA stars face burnout by 25

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

GAA director general Paraic Duffy has issued a stark warning that unless the workload on inter-county players is reduced, the retirement age will drop as low as the mid-20s over the next 10 years.

He paints a grim picture of players quitting football and hurling in their prime years, worn out by relentless demands which began in their teens.

"Burnout is still a very serious issue. The demands on players are far too heavy. Already, you have squads back training four and five nights a week for next season. There's a real risk that in 10 years' time, the retirement age of an inter-county player will be 25 or 26 years.

"They will be sick of it after that. They will walk away at a much earlier age than previously because their bodies and their personal lives will tell them they have had enough," said Duffy.

"With so much demand for success, there's a psychological as well as a physical pressure that's unsustainable."

Duffy was a key member of a committee that looked into burnout before he was appointed director general and while various recommendations were made, he believes the problem is even more acute now than it was then.

"When you hear of teams having 120 training sessions in a season, it's crazy. There are squads back doing five nights a week now. How can that be in their best interests? You'll find that some of the counties who train hardest at this time of year won't show much next July or August," he said.

The ban on training in November-December, which was introduced a few years ago, has been eased this year, allowing squads to return on a staggered basis from November 15, depending on when they exited the championship. The rule was relaxed when it became apparent that many counties flouted it over the last few winters.

Duffy believes that players are unhappy with the heavy workload, but feel they have no alternative but to accept it.

"My sense is that players want to put in less time, but they also want to play on county teams, so they will do whatever they are asked.

"If a manager calls training for five or six nights a week, they will go along with that," he said.

"They would prefer two or three nights, but they are afraid to stand up to the manager because he has the power to decide whether or not they are on the panel."

"Maybe it's the players collectively who could bring about change. Perhaps it's also something for the GPA to look at," said Duffy.

Despite fearing that burnout could have a devastating affect on career expectancy, Duffy believes there's very little the central authorities can do about it.

"People look to Croke Park to solve every problem but ultimately this one is down to team managers and county boards. They have to appreciate what's right for players and act accordingly. We have to rely on people's good judgment and concern for players.

"Not every county is practising what sports science is telling them. There are enlightened managers who plan the workload carefully but there are others who don't and who are putting an intolerable strain on players.

"I have grave fears that we will start losing playing at a much younger age if it continues. It will be very sad if an inter-county player aged 30 becomes the exception but that's a very real possibility."

Duffy on...


"I'm looking forward to the deliberations by Eugene McGee's committee. We still have too many fouls in football, especially cynical fouls.

"You want a game that's enjoyable to play and enjoyable to watch. Eugene's committee is doing a fine job. They have undertaken an incredible amount of consultation, involving thousands of people, so if consensus emerges around five or six key areas, it will be very difficult for Congress or anybody else to turn it down.

"As for the competitions, we had six different counties in the All-Ireland senior finals over the last three years, which is great variety.

"There are at least 10 counties who have realistic hopes of winning the All-Ireland next year. That compares more than favourably with any championship in any sport in any country."


"Kilkenny's dominance is a tribute to the way they go about their business. In one sense, you could say it's not good for hurling, but that's not Kilkenny's fault. It's up to others to rise to Kilkenny's standard and, in fairness, some are getting there.

"One area of concern is Wexford. Traditionally, they are one of the great hurling counties. The game needs a strong Wexford, but they haven't been as competitive as many would like in recent times.

"They're putting in a lot of work so, hopefully, we'll see them back soon. Hurling needs them."


"We had a good year at inter-county level, but we still seem to have a problem with some club championship games.

"One of the things that Liam (O'Neill) has spoken about is the number of people allowed on the sideline, which seems to be the single biggest contributory factor to the flashpoints.

"He's very strong on that. There are proposals to cut the numbers allowed on the sideline next year. That should help.

"We need to get this right because dust-ups on the sideline are deeply embarrassing and cause serious damage to the image of the GAA."


"I don't like the term 'bailout,' but I can understand why people use it. Some of the countries are over-spending but the majority are in good shape.

"You don't mind too much where a county has hit a financial problem through costs incurred in infrastructural development.

"Some took on projects, only to find things changed dramatically when the economy collapsed. Nobody is to blame for that and least the facilities are there.

"The big problem is where counties ran into debt purely on current spending, largely around county teams, where a huge amount of money was spent chasing success.

"There's no excuse for that."


"Casement Park is the next big project. The British Government is putting in £61m and we have to find £15m sterling. It's a big commitment, but it will be worth it.

"Pairc Ui Chaoimh will also be redeveloped. In general, we will be very prudent with infrastructural work from now on. It's all about making the existing stadiums as comfortable as we can because that's very important to people nowadays. "


"We'll be putting a motion to Congress next April which would allow a feasibility study to be done by the IRFU regarding hosting the rugby World Cup.

"Clearly, it wouldn't be possible to run the event here without the use of some GAA grounds.

"It's a matter for Congress to decide if we should make grounds available, but, obviously, there's a potential benefit there for the GAA. There's also the national interest. Government support for the bid is crucial and that would have to involve refurbishing GAA grounds to bring them up to the standard required for such a major world event."


"We'd hope to have it in use in Croke Park for the All-Ireland club finals on St Patrick's Day. It has proved tricky enough to get it right for our games, but it's nearly there now. If all goes to plan it will be in use for all championship games in Croke Park next summer. As for using it around the country, it would be very expensive. We'll run with it in Croke Park for a year or two and see how it goes."


"We're committed to another two-year cycle (2013-2014), but it has to work. Clearly there was an issue with the team Australia fielded last year. They need to have their best players involved, which wasn't the case last year.

"We've discussed it with the AFL and they're committed to make this series work.

"We'll put in the effort, too, but the bottom line is that the series has to be better than the last one if there's to be a long-term future for the games."


"There's far less confrontation between players and county boards than there used to be. The link-up between the GAA and GPA is working very well. The GPA runs a very good range of programmes for players and, in general, I think this is one area where we have come a long way.

"We ask a lot of our players, so it's important that we give them the best."


"We'll probably launch a new strategic action plan at the end of next year.

"We launched the 2009-2015 plan at the end of 2008, but things have changed dramatically since. The country is a different place now, so we need to re-examine our goals and ambitions. We'll do that next year. We can't afford to worry about what other sports are doing – we've got to do better ourselves.

"If we keep looking over our shoulders at what soccer and rugby are doing, it's not going to solve our own problems. We are the only ones who can do that."

Irish Independent

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