Players out of pocket as training ban is ignored
No money for petrol, food or gear as counties force players to train during ban
‘In all my years playing for the county I have never been treated so badly’
SEVERAL counties are ignoring the GAA's winter training ban and conducting full team training sessions despite the Association issuing a stark warning last month to any county found in breach of the rule.
Inter-county training is in full flow around the country, the Sunday Independent has learned, and it has also emerged that a ban which was introduced to enhance player welfare is now alarmingly being used to exploit players.
This paper has spoken to well-known players from eight counties -- all of whom have asked not to be named -- and a shocking picture has emerged of full-scale training sessions being held and players being forced to pay their own food and travel bills.
One university student makes a 200km round trip to his native county for training three times a week, but as expenses are not being paid out by county boards during the months of the ban -- November and December -- he finds himself out of pocket and struggling to get by.
"It's hard to pay for petrol every time I'm going down," said the student. "There are a few lads living round here so we try to car pool but it doesn't always work out. I have to be at the scheduled training, there are no excuses accepted, but it's difficult to get the money together for petrol when I'm not earning anything and since we're not supposed to be training, I can't ask for expenses."
Another footballer, who has been on his county panel for over a decade, is close to giving up. "In all my years playing for the county, I've never been treated so badly. We all just got on with it last year because we thought it would get better, but instead it's got worse," he admitted.
"It's the depths of winter and we are all giving our time, but because we're not supposed to be training the county board aren't feeding us. They can't put the cost of it through the books so we are the ones suffering.
"There are lads who come straight in from working all day and then they train for an hour and a half and are told to take a piece of fruit or an energy bar on the way out. It's like stepping back into the dark ages, a hot meal can't be too much to ask for.
"Everyone on the panel feels that it's just a cost-saving mechanism for the county board. If they were worried about player burnout they wouldn't be still running the club championships in December.
"They only have to give us expenses for six months instead of the usual eight and they don't have to give us training gear or pay for our food. And yet we are training as hard as we ever did. It's a win-win situation for them."
The GAA's ban on collective training for inter-county teams was introduced in 2008 because of fears that players were being pushed to the limits by year-round training regimes.
Last month, the GAA's Operations Officer Fergal McGill warned of financial penalties for counties that breach the ban. "We've clearly set down that we'll withhold elements of National League gate receipts if any county is blatantly disregarding it," he said.
And Communications Officer Alan Milton told the Sunday Independent that the Association expects county boards to be diligent in monitoring the situation.
"If counties decide to shun the rule we will look at ways of reminding them they are not adhering to the rule first and foremost and then there are other courses of action that must be taken," he said.
"If people report it to us, we'll look into it, but to date we haven't received any concrete information."
Yet one of the country's major hurling forces, who were involved in the latter stages of this year's championship, are starting their preparation for the 2011 season this week with a fitness test and are set to embark on a full winter training programme.
Several county managers have spoken out against the collective training ban since its introduction, most recently in November. Many of those opposed to the ban are new managers who are preparing their team for the first time. They believe they are at a disadvantage as they are not familiar with their players.
Other managers whose teams were knocked out of the championship early in the summer feel that they have had a sufficient break and will need extra time to get fit after being out of competitive action for over half a year.
One high-profile manager who recalled his side last month is so frustrated by players not turning out for training he is close to resigning, but he can't publicly express his grievances because he is not supposed to be training at all.
The GAA have claimed that player burnout is the main reason for the introduction of the ban. Yet inter-county players all over the country are playing for their colleges, clubs and some are still on underage teams.
Dublin footballer Kevin Nolan is currently playing in the club championship with Kilmacud Crokes and lining out for DCU. Kerry under 21 footballers Johnny Buckley and Daithi Casey are studying in UCC and are due to play DIT in the league final on Thursday. They are also scheduled to play for Dr Crokes in the Munster football final next Sunday, and they just finished playing the O'Donoghue Cup and still have to play the Kerry League final.
And given the continuing economic crisis, these situations are set to increase as more inter-county players return to full-time education. Just this year Sean Armstrong, Peter Domican, Conor Mortimor and Gareth Bradshaw all enrolled in postgraduate courses and are available for Sigerson Cup duty.
Meanwhile, Meath County Board secretary Cyril Creavin has expressed his dissatisfaction with the way the GAA handled the fallout of the controversial Leinster final this year.
In his annual report, Creavin felt the Association should have dealt with the matter immediately after the game and not allowed it to drag on for several days. He also said the refixing of games because of incorrect decisions would totally undermine the GAA system and that the reaction after the game to Meath players and the referee "was a disgrace to all".