Monday 19 August 2019

Pat Spillane: 'Spare me the guff from GAA officials about looking after our elite players'

Paul Geaney of Kerry in action against Frank McGlynn, left, and Stephen McMenamin of Donegal. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Geaney of Kerry in action against Frank McGlynn, left, and Stephen McMenamin of Donegal. Photo: Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

Sometimes those of us who are passionate about the GAA beat ourselves up too much. Our glass is always half empty and we're at our happiest when we are complaining.

The list of moans is endless, ranging from the state of the game, the unfair financial aid Dublin receives from Croke Park, everything to do with the Super 8s format, to the plight of the weaker counties.

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However, in the wake of the enthralling Kerry v Donegal championship showdown last weekend I want to change the narrative a little.

I'm focusing on the positives for a change. The game demonstrated just how great Gaelic football can be, provided the two teams and management approach it in a positive frame of mind. That's exactly what we got from Kerry and Donegal.

It was the direct opposite to the conservative, cagey, football-by-numbers tactics adopted by Tyrone 24 hours earlier.

Kerry and Donegal slogged it out in a traditional Gaelic football contest. They went man-on-man, with players trying to win their individual duels.

We got brilliant individual displays, superb point-scoring and an enthralling finish. The sides were level 15 times and there was never more than two points separating them. It really had the wow factor.

So congratulations to both Kerry and Donegal for reminding everyone that t he much-maligned game of Gaelic football can stand alongside any team sport in terms of spectacle, skill and entertainment value – provided it is played in the right way.

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Now I know I did promise to be positive in my musings today, but so grave is the injustice being perpetrated on the nation's elite Gaelic footballers that I have to speak out.

There are a growing number of elements about the whole Super 8s project which are beginning to annoy the hell out of me.

It's not just Dublin being the only team getting two home games – which, of course, is unfair – or the fact that the format will almost always throw up dead rubbers, and don't get me started on the GAA's decision to hand over the month of September to rival sports, which is a complete joke.

What really annoys me is the haste and speed that the entire championship is being run off at.

Mayo have had to play five weeks in a row. If they reach the semi-finals they will have had seven matches in eight weeks.

Tyrone have played eight championship games already – including five weeks on the spin.

Granted, they got a much-needed break at the weekend, but the underlying theme is one of undue haste. Indeed, one of the teams that qualifies from Group 1 next Sunday faces an All-Ireland semi-final six days later. What a joke.

So spare me the guff from GAA officials about looking after our elite players.

Today's inter-county stars are like the gladiators in ancient Rome. They have to entertain the masses, but, more importantly, generate revenue for the association – arguably at great physical and psychological cost to themselves.

The mounting toll of injuries in the Donegal and Mayo squads – and to a lesser extent in Kerry – are more than just an unfortunate coincidence.

They are a legacy of the unfair burden being placed on amateur players. I doubt that professional players would tolerate the training regime and the playing programme which amateur footballers have to endure.

What are the GPA doing about all this? Part of the problem is that, for the most part, players are so caught up in the moment that they don't complain.

On the morning after the Kerry versus Mayo match I met five Kerry players coming out of the sea in Templenoe. 

They were after doing a recovery session and a couple had taken the day off work.

This was their second recovery session – they also did a session immediately after the game in the team hotel in Dublin. There was no question of having a drink to celebrate their win over Mayo as there is a strict 'no alcohol' policy in force at the moment.

Between the Mayo and Donegal games they trained three times, travelled to Dublin on the day before the Donegal game, and got back to Kerry in the early hours of Monday.

Their entire life revolves around football and I'm sure it's exactly the same in all the other counties left in the hunt for the All-Ireland.

As I said earlier, all the players are so excited to be involved that they see this as the norm.

Viewed from the outside, however, it's hardly a balanced or healthy lifestyle. But the key issue is how much more we can ‘sweat' amateur footballers.

Surely something has to give; either pay them or reduce their  work load.

And it's not just high-profile players who are being subjected to unreasonable demands.

Take the case of Barry O'Mahony, a dual player in Kerry. This was his GAA itinerary last weekend: On Thursday he played on the Kerry U-20 team beaten by Cork in the Munster football final.

Twenty-four hours later he featured for his club Crotta O'Neills in the Kerry hurling championship, while on Saturday he came off the bench and scored 0-10 for the Kerry U-20 hurling team in their All-Ireland B semi-final win over Meath. Hopefully he was able to rest on the seventh day.

While all this is going on there are thousands of club GAA players twiddling their thumbs as they sit around waiting to play a meaningful match.

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