LIMERICK hurler and physiotherapist David Breen has warned that "careers are being cut short" by the demands being placed on inter-county players.
Through his work in the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry, the Na Piarsaigh man sees an increasing number of former county players requiring hip and knee replacements and he insists that the schedules now are too taxing on the body.
"Careers are being cut short because guys are flogging themselves, not taking adequate down-time," Breen said.
"With Limerick, for example, and the Na Piarsaigh guys, the management have been quite open in saying 'take four weeks or five weeks,' but in the space of a 13-month season, five weeks isn't a lot of time, especially if they have niggling injuries."
As part of the Limerick city side that has claimed Munster club SHC honours twice in three years, Breen has seen his club and county campaigns merge into each other, even as they crashed out at the All-Ireland club semi-final stage earlier this month.
And he's paying the price now, with a scope on a troublesome knee scheduled for this week – it is likely to rule him out of the rest of Limerick's league campaign.
"There's never a right time really to say: 'I'm off the radar for a couple of months'," he said as he was named AIB Munster club Hurler of the Year at a ceremony in Croke Park yesterday.
"But, eventually, a time will come where you can't keep everyone happy. In my own case, if I don't take time off now I could be finished completely in a couple of years and I'll be kicking myself, saying, 'why didn't I take some time off and get things right?'.
"Players wouldn't be the kind to complain, especially GAA players. A lot of GAA players will suck it up and get on with it.
"But, by the time things come to a head and guys are going in for knee replacements and hip replacements, they have hung up the boots and no one is listening to them at that stage. They are old news and they haven't got as strong of a voice as they did when they were in with the county.
"The whole issue is brushed under the carpet.
"It needs to be regulated. Take a guy who is in first or second year at college. How many teams is he eligible for? And you can be guaranteed everyone wants a piece of him.
"I don't think parents are in a position where they are educated enough about injuries or strength and conditioning where they know when to say 'sorry, my son or daughter is not going playing that match'.
"Everyone wants a piece of the top players."
GAA president-elect Aogán ó Fearghail has admitted that the fixture programme is a serious concern; Breen feels that completing the club championships in a calendar year would be a good place to start as the authorities set about easing demands on players.
"I just think the length of the season is ridiculous, especially when you take county lads who are coming back in November 2012 and then you keep going all year playing with your county and then your club and you are finishing up in February 2014. It is nonsense," he said.
"It is one thing to say that it is about tradition and Paddy's Day (senior club final day). It is something fantastic that players dream about, but at the end of the day it is constant loading, constant training, constant driving for guys who are away.
"I think when you weigh up all the pros and cons of keeping it as it is and finishing it on Paddy's Day and take player welfare into account, the cons far outweigh the pros."
Breen called for a study into specific types of injuries GAA players are suffering from so that the best course of action can be undertaken.
"They need to start recording these injuries and see how many guys are going for hip scopes, knee scopes, wash-outs and how many GAA players are getting hip replacements in their 30s or 40s.
"There's no regulation on it at the minute and it's hard to go back to the GAA when you don't have hard, cold facts and you are just talking about anecdotal evidence from different players."