Sunday 17 November 2019

James Horan: The last thing GAA managers will do is flog a player

The former Mayo manager says the key is finding a work/life/football balance and that the onus is on management to understand their players' needs.

James Horan
James Horan

Declan Whooley

James Horan has conceded that the commitment levels required at inter-county level are demanding and impact heavily on players and their families, but believes the key is finding a life balance.

Horan, who stepped down as Mayo football manager after four years at the helm, was speaking on Newstalk's Off The Ball programme following Joe Brolly's grave concerns for the welfare of modern GAA players and the consequences of the commitment they are being forced to give on the show last night.

Brolly explained how he feels that drinking bans, extensive training regimes, insatiable managers, a win-at-all-costs ethos and a packed fixture list was putting far too much pressure on inter-county players.

The All-Ireland winner feels players personal and professional welfare is being put at risk.

"The players are little more now than indentured slaves," he said.

"We've imported professional practices into a sport that is community based. The boards are complicit in this."

"We've a real problem on our hands because we've got all these young lads between 20 and 30 drifting between scholarship to scholarship.

"They're not able to work full-time, they're not able to build careers. Their life has to be put on hold. A lot of the big stars of Ulster football are unemployed."

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Horan however says that the key is to finding a work/life/football balance and says he isn't aware of any successful team that resorted to "flogging players".

"It's tough," he said when asked about the commitment required from inter-county players." The time investment is big. It impacts players and their families, but it's something they love doing. It's something they want to do."

James Horan
James Horan

"Management teams that have professional people involved are very aware of integrating lifestyle, circumstances and jobs and factoring that into the football and the training that he players need to do.

"There is no point in flogging a player if that player is tired. No point doing that because what you will have is a tired player, a disengaged player. You will have a player whose injury rate will increase.

"There is an awareness to try and get a work/life/football balance. Playing inter-county football is an absolute privilege for players and is something that players are really committed too, but there is a huge responsibility on management side to make sure there is a balance life approach to it."

Recalling his own playing days with Mayo, Horan believes one of the great advancements in the sport is in the area of strength and conditioning which he says assists players in recovery rather than creating the issue in the first place as has been suggested in some quarters.

"I played in an era when S&C was in its infancy. It was a case of "Run Forrest run" with regards to the prep (preparation). That in my experience has completely changed with the level of professional experience that has come into management teams now. "

"I have been involved for the last four years and I'm sure Jim Gavin, Eamon Fitzmaurice and these guys and the last thing they would do is flog a player."

Three-time All-Ireland winner Phillip Jordan also spoke on the show and he disagreed with Brolly's assertion that inter-county is almost "punishment" for players.

"He paints this picture that players don't enjoy playing for their county," he said. "I definitely never felt that during my time playing. If it was going to be a tough training session I don't think any player enjoyed that, but that was the same 20 years ago when lads were doing laps of the pitch."

"The overall experience was one of enjoyment."

"I retired three years ago and Tyrone were training two nights a week and one night at the weekend and two nights weight. I don't think, unless things have changed greatly, the commitment has increased significantly."

Horan said that high levels of commitment are required in all walks of life, not just the GAA, if one strives for success.

"If you take anything that people really want to be successful at or really want to push, be that in work circumstances, or guys that want to do a triathlon or be a Connacht minor swimmer, there is huge commitment needed to achieve high level in sport. That will always be there."

Both Jordan and Horan addressed Brolly's claims that players struggle with careers as they put their lives on hold for the sake of an inter-county career.

The former Tyrone star said his experiences in football, from inter-personal, to success to dealing with the media helped him in business, while Horan pointed to his final Mayo team as a reference point that careers can be carved out simultaneously with a top-level football career.

"I went through the Mayo team that played the last championship match in 2014, 13 of the 15 were working. A lot of them had professional careers and there were two that were students."

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