Winter ban here to stay
GAA stand firm - but may be open to 'tweaking' current arrangement
The GAA are prepared to "follow up" on any good information they receive about teams breaking the collective training ban in November and December.
GAA operations manager Fergal McGill said yesterday that the ban was here to stay, but admitted the Association would be receptive to "tweaking" the current arrangement if counties wanted to do that.
A number of new managers have been protesting against the ban in recent weeks, but evidence that teams are breaking the rules still remains anecdotal.
McGill said the GAA want managers and county boards to act responsibly and stressed that acting on information did not mean they would be lurking around in ditches to catch teams in the act. Counties found to be in breach of these rules could have money from the National League pool withheld.
"We would certainly follow up on anything if we had good, solid information. But it's not about us chasing counties, it's about team managers using their cop on. All the scientific and medical evidence would suggest it's better off for fellas to be having a break at this time of year. It's good for them mentally and it's good for them physically," said McGill.
"We still believe that having a close season is vital for the GAA. It happens in every other sport all around the world. Players have to rest, they have to recover."
McGill, who is also Croke Park's regular liaison with the GPA, admitted the current system wasn't perfect, but was in place with good intentions.
"We accept that the close season as it is, probably isn't perfect. Not all players are getting a break. Third level players are among those who aren't getting a significant break, but, nonetheless, if there wasn't a closed inter-county season, they'd be getting far less of a break because they'd be trying to serve two masters. At least now they're only playing and training with one team at this time of the year.
"You've got a situation in a lot of counties in the west and south where you have people living in Dublin and, throughout the year, they're driving two or three hours to get to training and back. We don't want that at this time of year, there's no need for it.
"Plenty of individual players are training in gyms and that's fine. We don't expect them to stop altogether, but at least they're in control of what they're doing themselves, whereas in November and December training collectively, it's the manager who's in control of pushing their bodies.
"Opinions have been expressed from individual managers and possibly from some players over the past couple of weeks, but we're intent on maintaining the closed season.
"Without a doubt, if counties want to tweak that they can do so at Congress. They can bring changes to it if they want to change the timing of it or whatever."
McGill said there has been no formal complaint or evidence provided to the GAA of counties flouting the ban.
"There will always be an element of that and quite a lot of the managers who supposedly got away with it, that's based on rumours and conjecture again. Nobody has formally reported anything to us," he said.
"I've heard bits of stories that various fellas are spotted in gyms, but that's provided for.
"I believe the vast majority of counties are honouring it and those who aren't, they need to look at themselves."
McGill also admitted that Belfast would be a popular choice in Croke Park as the next 'country' venue for an International Rules Test.
With Casement Park undergoing development work, the prospects for the Rules series moving north in three years' time were strong, he said.
"It would be an absolute ambition of everyone in the GAA to have an international game staged in Belfast, or somewhere in the six counties. That would be absolutely outstanding. It would be a nice payback to the many GAA people who have worked so hard up there over the years.
"It is not decided. It hasn't been discussed yet. We will invite proposals from the provinces when the time comes.
"But, laying our cards on the table, we would love to be in a position to do it up there.
"Casement Park was considered this time around, but it just wasn't considered quite suitable enough -- we needed more seats."