Monday 20 November 2017

Runaway training

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

IN the interests of fairness to Kilmacud Crokes, it should be noted that nobody from the four All-Ireland senior club semi-finalists played in the Allianz Football League last weekend.

Kilmacud annoyed Longford by declaring that Brian Kavanagh would be unavailable for the clash with Roscommon. Longford argued that since it was three weeks until the club semi-final, Kavanagh should be released.

It's a valid point. Longford are desperately seeking promotion from Division 4, a pursuit for which they need to be at full strength as often as possible.

Kavanagh's presence would have been a major plus for Longford last Sunday. Sorry, it's not on, said Kilmacud -- we're playing Crossmaglen at the end of the month.

Unfair, countered Longford. Our promotion drive is being hampered by the ambitions of a Dublin club who can draw from a population base greater than the whole of Longford.

There's no doubt that the scenario of a large Dublin club preventing a weaker county fielding a star player for an important league game is extremely emotive.

Of course, withdrawals would probably also have applied if a Longford club were in the semi-final.

However, the big difference for Longford would be that the presence of their champions in a semi-final would boost the entire county, making it worth the sacrifice of playing a few NFL games without some top names.

Instead, they were without their star full-forward, with the benefit accruing to a Dublin club.

As luck would have it, Longford's opponents were Roscommon, whose county champions St Brigid's are in the semi-final. None of their county players lined out last Sunday, just as the Crossmaglen and Nemo Rangers contingents weren't involved with Armagh and Cork respectively.

Nor will Kilmacud's Dublin players be joining the county squad until after the club campaign.

So while Longford's annoyance at Kavanagh's absence is understandable, it's part of a wider issue, which centres on the trend of players training incessantly and playing relatively infrequently.

Kavanagh's semi-final preparations would probably have been enhanced by playing last Sunday. The higher the standard, the more it brings out of good players, so a joust with a top-class full-back might well have benefited Kavanagh.

Kavanagh would probably have been marking Peter Domican, Roscommon's full-back. But then Domican is a St Brigid's player so he too was kept clear of county duty -- this despite St Brigid's having won the Connacht title as far back as November 21.

By the time St Brigid's play Nemo, they will have been 14 weeks without a competitive game, so surely an outing with Roscommon would have been good for Domican, Karol Mannion and Ian Kilbride?

Yes, of course, there's an injury risk but it applies in training too.

There's also a rich irony in counties complaining about clubs blocking players when, for much of the summer, the reverse is the case.

But then the whole GAA fixtures structure is the equivalent of the HSE -- everybody knows it's a mess but too many vested interests block a radical overhaul.

It's interesting to note that many current players (Eoin Cadogan was the latest in last Sunday's Cork-Kerry match programme) name Muhammad Ali, whose career ended (in 1981) before most of them were born, as their sporting idol.

Now here's an interesting thing which resonates as much with GAA as with boxing. Modern-day world boxing champions rarely fight more than twice a year, sometimes even less. Yet, in 1966 Ali, worldwide hero, then and now, fought no fewer than five world title fights between March 29 and November 14, winning them all.

Around the same time Arkle, the greatest chaser in racing history and often giving away large chunks of weight, was consistently taking on all-comers between October and April, unlike nowadays when three runs seems to be the average for the top jump stars.

GAA players weren't a protected species back then either. Galway completed the All-Ireland football three-in-a-row in 1966 with a panel that included eight players from Dunmore McHales and Tuam Stars. Only two weeks before the final against Meath, Dunmore beat Tuam in the county final.

Imagine staging a county final two weeks before the All-Ireland final nowadays. Hell, some county championships don't even start until after the county team is finished.

Now, it seems to be all about training rather than performing, much to the detriment of club and county.

Irish Independent

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