Tuesday 16 January 2018

Autumn Return?

Dublin GAA official John Costello sees sense in an early return for the leagues.
Dublin GAA official John Costello sees sense in an early return for the leagues.
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

A return to an autumn start for the National Leagues should be considered if it can be conclusively proven that GAA players who are involved in various grades are suffering from burnout.

That's according to John Costello, Dublin County Board CEO, who has expressed unease over the busy schedule facing some players in the early part of the year.

"We are led to believe that the players most at risk of burnout are in the minor and U-21 categories, yet every year these players seem to be under increased pressure, due to the scheduling of the National Leagues, U-21 championships and third-level competitions," he writes in his annual report, which he will present to the Dublin Convention on Monday night.

"The inclusion of third-level colleges in early-season inter-county tournaments has also increased the amount of training and playing time."

While questioning why young athletes who undertake very heavy training schedules rarely complain about burnout, he believes that if it's a major concern in the GAA, then the fixture programme should be adjusted.

"If burnout really is the issue some would have us believe, should the National Leagues be rescheduled to allow a few rounds pre-Christmas to alleviate the congestion in the February-March period?" he writes.

Costello is the latest to raise the question of starting the leagues pre-Christmas in order to ease the pressure in the February-March-April period, which is jammed with National League, third-level, U-21 and All-Ireland club championship games.

Costello raises a number of issues regarding the control of games and comes down in favour of video technology, while also proposing that timekeeping duties be taken away from referees.

"The argument in favour of the introduction of video technology certainly has a strong basis as it would permit the viewing of incidents by the television match official, similar to what happens in rugby," he adds.

The controversy at the end of the Louth-Meath Leinster final reopened the debate on the use of video technology but Costello believes that other lessons should be learned from the aftermath of that game.


"A situation should not occur where pressure is put on competing players to offer a re-fixture. Leadership must be shown by the governing powers -- whether centrally or provincially -- on such matters," he writes.

On the question of timekeeping, Costello asserts that there were several occasions in this year's championships when the appropriate amount of stoppage-time wasn't played, especially in the second half.

"As teams attempt to defend narrow leads in the dying minutes, a number of strategies are deployed which run down the clock and match officials seldom, it would seem, take account of this."

Costello raises doubts about the long-term relevance and viability of the International Rules series and also expresses disappointment at the level of passion shown by Irish players at times during the games against Australia last October.

"You'd have to wonder about the long-term relevance of the game? Is it a marriage that will some day be harmonious or is it one that will also be subject to a path of extreme highs and lows as one nation holds the upper hand until they seem to lose a bit of interest and are surpassed by their rivals," writes Costello, who also queried whether it's fair to select Irish players who are attached to AFL clubs at the expense of home-based Gaelic footballers.

Addressing the need for greater marketing of Gaelic games, he believes that it's a vital part of the overall package. Combined with sensible ticket pricing, it can be extremely effective.

"Parnell Park hosted a crowd of over 7,000 for the final of RTE's 'Celebrity Bainisteoir'. Yes, admission was free but it did highlight the fact that if games are marketed well, there is a sporting audience in Dublin who are crying out for games to attend on weekend nights," he writes.

Referring to Dublin's one-point defeat by Cork in the All-Ireland football semi-final, Costello described it as "the one that got away" in a dramatic season for Pat Gilroy and his squad.

"Great year or huge opportunity let slip? That's the cold analysis of the year for our senior footballers. Truth be told, it was partly both," he says.

Irish Independent

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