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'Frightening' training levels add to fixture furore

A SHOCKING new statistic uncovered by a high-powered Croke Park committee has increased the pressure on the GAA to totally revamp its fixture schedules.

An extensive report by the Medical and Player Welfare Committee has revealed that inter-county players are putting in a massive 13 hours of training for every hour of competitive action on the field.

With the start of the National Football League just six days away, many players, especially those in the 18 to 23 age bracket, are subject to extraordinary training schedules.

They find themselves lining out in subsidiary provincial competitions and also preparing for third-level events like the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups and under 21 competitions. Most will also have club commitments which start up at this time of year.

The revelations surrounding the heavy training regimes have only emphasised the unrealistic demands being placed on the shoulders of players.

"This statistic is frightening and it has shown us that we need to get more game-specific," said Pat Daly, the GAA's Director of Games. "There is just a mesmeric level of training activity out there for a certain age group. Players are under severe pressure to deliver for a variety of teams.

"They are training way too much for college events, National Leagues, championships and club championships. In turn, you can see that there is an imbalance in our fixtures and the whole master plan needs to be streamlined."

There have been calls for the leagues to start in October instead of February, but Daly says that he, personally, would not advocate a return to autumn starts. Yet, a request for an earlier start could soon come before Central Council, while a proposal will definitely be tabled at the forthcoming Congress in April.

"GAA activity has to stop sometime," Daly argues. "It would be disastrous for the profile of the league competition to have three games played before Christmas and then four more afterwards. It would be a marketing disaster, there would be no consistency for teams, crowds would be lower and the appetite just wouldn't be there."

Instead, Daly believes that competitions like the McKenna Cup should be used as short warm-up events at the start of each season, leading into a shortened league, with the winners receiving recognition for their achievements in the forthcoming championships.

"The league winners should benefit in the championship, either by seeding or a guaranteed place at certain stages of the qualifiers," he adds. "At the moment, team managers are leading their sides to league finals and then downplaying the achievement. They tell the media: 'Ah, it's only the championship that matters'. All that negativity sinks in and it's not good for a competition which is supposed to be our secondary event. We could strongly link the league and championship, there has to be some retainer for league winners. That would remove all the negative talk."

Daly proposes that the All-Ireland senior hurling and football championships start earlier, to help facilitate club action later in the summer, and he would aim to conclude the All-Ireland club championships before the end of December.

"I think there would be a huge appetite for the All-Ireland hurling and club footballs under lights in Croke Park in early December, and why not run off the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups off during winter? Play them mid-week under lights with the finals also in December. Many colleges have floodlight facilities and there would also be a good TV audience. Staging them within the calendar year would free up space for players and managers.

"There are a number of factors to be urgently considered; the balance between club and county action needs to be tightened and we must maximise the potential of the leagues from a marketing and promotional point of view -- too many people are talking the leagues down. We need to have the optimum amount of games and the fixtures should blend in with each other.

"People might say this still leads to too many games -- my argument is that we need to be more game-specific anyway. As long as the master fixture list is streamlined, it will stop the current crazy levels of training. I mean, 13 hours' preparation for every hour on the field is just startling," he concluded.

Sunday Indo Sport