Experimental Friday feeling stirring mixed emotions
Laois and Carlow are set to make history when they play in the first game of the All-Ireland series to be staged on a Friday. However, there has been a lot of opposition to the fixture and as the row rumbles on sports psychologist Enda McNulty says the time and day of the game should not affect how players perform.
"It's the first time for the counties to play on Friday nights but a lot of them have done it with clubs for their own county championships, so it won't be alien to the players," said McNulty. "Also when these players were younger they played a lot of their underage games on week nights, so that is pretty normal."
The All-Ireland medal winner, whose brother Justin is manager of Laois, feels that the biggest problems the players will face are travelling to the venue if they have been working and also the mental challenge of having to prepare for work and also for such a big game.
Though McNulty feels that having a qualifier game on a Friday night is a good idea, he says the players should have been consulted and given more notice, as 11 days is not sufficient to organise work and family situations.
"I think a Friday night game will be very exciting for the players and something different. I know from my own career that we were delighted to play in the evening time because there were more people there. Also it will give players a chance to go out after and socialise as they won't have to go to work the next day.
"However not all players are going to find it easy to get the day off work. They should have been consulted on this early in the year through the GPA."
The professional landscape has changed for everybody since the recession hit and employers are putting more demands on their workers, McNulty said. "Employers are now less keen to give a half-day or a full day off to players for matches or training.
"Back in the golden years – five or six years ago – employers thought that it was great to have a GAA player in a management role or in any role. Now they are still saying that it's great to have them, but they must be doing 50 hours a week."
Last week Jim McGuinness, Jim Gavin and Kieran McGeeney all came out and called for players to be compensated if they take time off work to play championship games.
"Monday to Friday would be considered a working week and if you are expecting players to play senior inter-county during the working week, I think they need to be compensated. It's just compensation for loss of earnings," said Gavin.
McGuinness echoed his thoughts stating that you can't expect anybody to take a day off work without pay or a sick day to play a game of football. And although McNulty acknowledges that there is an issue with the players losing out on work he looks at the bigger picture.
"I think Gaelic games are much more important than money, than bonus or lack or bonus that you can earn. When GAA players finish playing the game they get much more out of it than 20, 30 or 100 grand a year.
"We are developing serious leaders in GAA and it's the adversity like this that they have to deal with and get on with that creates much more resourceful and well-rounded people with a can-do attitude."
From a marketing point of view, McNulty fully endorses the efforts of the GAA in trying to do something different. He is just back from a trip to America and Canada with the Irish rugby team – who he now works with – and he saw first hand how to promote sport in unique ways.
"The rugby sold out two stadia in Houston and Toronto. I think we need to learn from the best sports in the world, look at how the Pro12 and the Heineken Cup operate.
"The GAA have a major challenge to try and create a marketing vehicle that significantly gets more bums on seats."