New approach for student county players needed, report finds
A group of researchers at IT Tralee's School of Health and Social Sciences have made a number of recommendations relating to students and their inter-county involvement.
Among them is a call for the main third-level competitions, the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups, to be played through October and November on a round-robin basis and away from the congested January-February window they usually have found themselves in.
The research team of Dr Patrick McGarty, current Limerick senior hurling trainer Joe O'Connor and Tadhg O'Shea found that a student inter-county footballer or hurler was more likely to choose a course at a third-level institute than their student peer group because of sport. They conducted their research among inter-county squads in Munster and Connacht.
The proximity to home was, they found, influenced by a number of factors including increasing requirements to attend multiple mid-week training sessions.
"While Higher Education Authority (HEA) statistics reveal that the presence of third-level institutes in a region influences local cohorts of students to remain close to home, inter-county players far exceed their student peers by remaining locally," they suggest in their report.
The research found that - 77 per cent of Limerick's inter-county student players study in Limerick (85 per cent of hurlers, 67 per cent of footballers).
- 83 per cent of Cork's inter-county student players study in Cork (87 per cent footballers, 79 per cent hurlers).
- 82 per cent of Galway inter-county student players study in Galway (67 per cent footballers, 91 per cent hurlers);
Compared to: - 33 per cent of Kerry players studying in Kerry (28 per cent footballers, 40 per cent hurlers);
- 38 per cent of Waterford players studying in Waterford (40 per cent hurlers, 33 per cent footballers);
- 10 per cent of Sligo players studying in Sligo (six per cent footballers, 14 per cent hurlers);
They also found that 60 per cent of the current Kerry football squad are students.
The scale and variety of course in each of the three cities was an obvious factor but even in counties where there is no third level institute, the research found inter-county players were more likely than their peer group to study in an adjoining county.
In conducting their analysis for policy initiatives to support all high performing student-athletes, the team found that there were increasing instances of requirements to attend mid-week training with a subsequent effect on academic performance and increasing numbers of players committed to three or more teams.
Other recommendations include the introduction of a co-ordinated sports and education policy of flexible study and support structures for all Irish high performing athletes to mirror international best practice, that would allow such students much more time to complete a course if desired.
They are also proposing increased mentoring services and the flexibility for more remote monitoring of training and collective mid-week training at college locations.
O'Connor, who has not been involved in the preparations of the Limerick and Clare hurlers and the Kerry footballers this decade, is very supportive of such training flexibility, according to McGarty.
Taking the third-level GAA competitions back to October-November would reduce pressure on students, they feel.