Saturday 14 December 2019

GAA must get to bottom of mounting injury crisis

Over-training, burnout and lop-sided fixtures list must all come under scrutiny

Wexford's Lee Chin is just one of a growing number of players who have been sidelined by the scourge of injury in recent seasons
Wexford's Lee Chin is just one of a growing number of players who have been sidelined by the scourge of injury in recent seasons
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It's the same after most Allianz League games throughout the spring. Post-match interviews usually include a request to team managers for an update on injured players and a likely return date.

The answers are often quite lengthy, which is hardly surprising since most counties have congested treatment rooms.

Increased traffic in that direction could be expected around early April after a busy two months of inter-county activity, but why do so many players carry injuries into the new season?

And, while knocks are inevitable during a minimum seven-game (football) and five-game (hurling) league programme, there still seems to be a disproportionate number of casualties.

Why so? We're told that training methods are the ultimate in modern sophistication and that treatment regimes are equally advanced, yet the sick bays are overflowing with wounded warriors.

The prevalence of cruciate ligament injuries has been well-documented, however the underlying cause remains a medical mystery.

Still, cruciate problems represent a small percentage of the overall injury range, which raises questions as to what's really going on across a broader spectrum.

Are training demands totally unreasonable for amateur players?

It's altogether different for professionals whose week is based on training-resting-playing, all carefully co-ordinated to suit squad and individual needs.

Contrast that with a GAA player who combines training three or four times a week and playing a game at the weekend with his job or study commitments. It's some difference – both from a physical and mental perspective.

The ban on closed-season training was neatly circumvented by managers urging players into gyms to either work on their own or, alternatively, as groups that just happen to turn up at the same time.

Ignore the charade: it's collective training masquerading as coincidence.

The reality is that many players feel they have to work on their body shape in the closed season, having been brainwashed into thinking that it's absolutely necessary if they are to compete on even terms with gym-dogs from other counties.

What player will tell his manager that he's actually quite happy with his upper-body strength and that, if it's all the same, he would prefer to spend early winter nights pursuing some other activity?

Suffice to say, it might merit a note under the 'attitude' heading in the managerial log.

Burnout has been a buzz phrase in GAA circles for a long time, often accompanied by case histories involving players who faced crazy burdens, especially in the early part of the year.

It has been discussed at forums, seminars and think-ins, even making its way to Special Congress on one occasion but the problem remains as serious as ever.

Dr Pat O'Neill and many other medics have presented graphic evidence of the damage being done to young players by the excessive workload, yet it hasn't been lightened in the slightest.


Most of the heavy lifting is packed into the first three months of the year.

Yet, despite the obvious imbalance, the GAA's games programme remains chronically short of imagination.

And when the fixture-makers are queried, their response is to shrug their shoulders, mutter 'what about the clubs' and carry on with the nonsensical pattern.

Nonsensical? By next Sunday evening all senior inter-county football teams will have played seven games in just over two months but are guaranteed only two more outings for the rest of the year.

Good luck in the search to find a speck of common sense in that.

Whether too much training, too little rest and the lop-sided season is exacerbating the injury crisis remains unproven but if that's not responsible, what is?

The litany of names and injuries trotted out by managers every week suggests that something is seriously wrong with the system.

Surely, it's time for a thorough analysis of the injury crisis rather than relying on individual doctors to voice their concerns and then ignoring them.


Offaly's second play-off chance hard to fathom

If you're into puzzles, go figure this. Offaly hurlers lost to Antrim in the Division 1B relegation play-off last Sunday. So Offaly are relegated?

Not quite. They will get a second chance to survive in the group when they play the Division 2A winners (Carlow or Kerry).

That's two opportunities to avoid the drop, yet Waterford were shown the 1A door when they lost to Dublin last Sunday.

Surely, two bites at the relegation cherry is too much of a good thing for 1B's bottom side. Still, if it's to apply there, why not in 1A too, in which case Waterford would have another chance of survival against 1B winners, Cork?

Carlow and Kerry play the 2A final on Sunday, but, instead of celebrating promotion, the winners must begin preparing for the clash with Offaly a week later.

And, if they lose that, there will have been no tangible reward for topping 2A, which can only deflate players.

Why a double indemnity against relegation from 1B, while double-locking the door out of 2A?

Meanwhile, the spate of robberies being carried out in clubhouses and cars while players are training seems to be on increase. Bray Emmets were the latest to be hit last Monday night.

So, let the message go out: don't leave valuables in cars or dressing-rooms.

And always keep an eye out for unfamiliar characters in club car parks and general surrounds.


Treaty in race to shake off league hangover

Limerick joint-manager TJ Ryan reckoned that the Division 1A v 1B factor was highly significant in his side's eight-point defeat by Galway last Sunday.

"Not being used to playing Division 1A teams came home to roost again, I think," said Ryan.

"We struggled with them (Galway), not so much the pace of it but definitely the whole physical side of it. Against a Division 1A side, we couldn't cope with it and our mistakes were punished."

What has changed since 2013? Didn't Limerick win the Munster title after wintering in 1B last year? And weren't Dublin similarly successful from 1B in Leinster?

At the same time as Limerick were struggling against Galway last Sunday, two other Division 1B teams, Cork and Laois, were stretching Tipperary and Clare to the very limit. How did they bridge the physical gap?

Having failed to take a glorious chance to finally escape from Division 1B, before being overwhelmed by Galway, Limerick won't have happy memories of the league.

It leaves them with an awful lot to work on before facing Tipperary in the Munster semi-final in Thurles on June 1.

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