Sunday 21 January 2018

Comment: Cracks are already showing in new GAA calendar as demands on players prove problematic

Meath selector Martin Comerford during the Bord na Mona Walsh Cup Group 3 Second Round match between Meath and Dublin at Abbotstown GAA Pitches in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Meath selector Martin Comerford during the Bord na Mona Walsh Cup Group 3 Second Round match between Meath and Dublin at Abbotstown GAA Pitches in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

There might have been a few nervous grimaces around a computer in Market Square, Armagh, when members of the Ulster Council gathered around to get a peek at the long-range forecast in January and what it might all mean for staging the Dr McKenna Cup.

Mercifully, at this point the only snow forecast is for January 15, avoiding the scheduled semi-finals the previous day. It brightens up the rest of the week in time for the final on January 20.

Should some of these games fall by the wayside with inclement weather, it will be the first issue that the new GAA calendar encounters. And there's absolutely no wriggle room.

The teams that make the Dr McKenna Cup final will have played five games in 17 days.

Holders Tyrone have never minded that prospect, but it might be said that a change in tack would be worth the experiment. On the two out of the last three seasons that they have played in Division One of the National League, they have beaten only Roscommon and Mayo outside of Ulster derbies.

Now there's a stat for you, January and all notwithstanding.

The league will be coming at teams fast this year. There is a round of fixtures while we are still in January and two more to follow on consecutive weekends. There is still a week's break to allow the launch of the hurling leagues, followed by two games in seven days, and another weekend break before the last two games back to back.

Such front-loading of games is designed to get the club season moving in April, with clubs being gifted exclusive access to their players.

Up to a point, mind. It would seem inconceivable for county management teams to rest up in the weeks leading up to Championship. In recent years it has become commonplace for teams to hold Tuesday and Thursday night collective trainings, with a double session on a Saturday.

The likelihood for this season is that players will train with their county on a Saturday in a session that might last anything up to three hours, and then be asked to stand out from the pack 24 hours later while playing for their club, all while getting the usual close attention 'county men' normally get.

And what chances are there that the last weekend of the month will not be cordoned off by county managers seeking to get the squad together for a residential training weekend away?

Already the cracks are appearing. New Donegal manager Declan Bonner has stated he would be unwilling to give his players over to the clubs in April - and there is an unhealthy air of entitlement to 'giving' players back to the very clubs that nurtured their talents.

St Mary's University manager and new Galway coach Paddy Tally always makes an incisive contribution to any debate and he says: "I was chatting to one of our players and he's back training with his county.

"We started working out how many games he played for his county last year. It worked out he played two hours football in an entire season. You're talking about 80 to 90 training sessions and two hours football."

He went on: "There's not another sport in the world where that would happen. There is so much information on this now that tells us training is the problem.

"It's okay if you're a nailed down starter in your team, but if you're between number 17 to 28 you might not kick a ball all year, and you might not be playing for your club, so you're going to miss out on everything."

Most clubs nowadays have some sort of a Christmas limber up on the 26th or 27th, and by the 28th almost all county teams resumed collective training, which is also coincidentally the end of the mandatory training ban from the 21st to the 28th.

Back in 2010, when a winter training ban emerged, counties were threatened that National League gate receipts would be withheld if any flouting the rule occurred.

At that point it was no training whatsoever for November and December. It has been relaxed since.

But the truth is the majority of counties are back training in October. GAA people don't like being told what to do.

Belfast Telegraph

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