Belfast Telegraph

Joe Brolly's concerns over GAA player welfare not shared by all

By Declan Bogue

Last Sunday, I ran into an inter-county footballer on my travels who was rewarding himself with a weekend pizza, just as I was.

Funny thing. He didn't appear traumatised. We shared a laugh and a joke and he made a quip about being an 'elite athlete'.

Even funnier. He has a rather impressive job. He has a number of sidelines and interests he pursues. He is also a family man and he wears all this lightly.

Why is this funny? Because if you were to believe some of the vainglorious rhetoric doing the rounds on the plight of the inter-county player right now, you might feel that nothing short of an intervention from a human rights body is the logical conclusion.

This particular player meets up with his county team for a weights session on a Monday. They train on the pitch Tuesday and Thursday, before their game at the weekend.

Even I, pot-belly on a Sunday night and all that, train more than that.

Some other players get a bit restless and add in their own pool, running or weights session. By and large, that is the story of practically all the Ulster counties at the moment as they compartmentalise their pre-season training.

One Ulster county spent last Monday night doing a stretching session that they didn't even have to get out of their tracksuits for. Their players based away from home met up among themselves to go through it.

On Tuesday, they were off. On Wednesday, they met again at various locations for a strength and conditioning session. On Thursday, they had a free day. On Friday, they met up for their one collective pitch session of the week.

Sounds like they are slacking off? Well, they are in a McKenna Cup semi-final tonight. Their approach would reflect everything good about a player-centred attitude.

Mayo, who traditionally are present at the business end of the All-Ireland series, are meeting only once a week at present.

Yet Joe Brolly is not backing down from his stance that players are 'indentured servants.'

His last couple of syndicated columns have caused a flutter of concern for the welfare of players and Brolly peppers his arguments with vague anecdotes about Donegal players having to cope with their training schedule by buying confectionery, or Crossmaglen players leaving the panel because they didn't fancy the training regime.

Two Armagh players have since come out and lanced through his arguments.

This is what happens when the frivolous side of newspapers, catastrophising and bombast takes over from actual journalism and considered opinion.

Brolly will know that his case studies would not stand up in his day job.

He states how five players contacted him and how: "They are constantly tired. They suffer from dreadful boredom… One said he felt a rush of relief when he read the column."

After that, he returns to familiar themes and personal bugbears such as the Sky TV deal, digs out a few lines of academic reports on professional sport and invokes the threat of a professional GAA, the GPA and has a few unnamed sources insulting members of the GAA leadership. Most of the sources in these columns are unnamed.

Of course, some recently-retired players might agree with him but others do not. Take Kevin McKernan, who said about Down's gymwork: "Anyone who is looking after their health would be doing something most days. You don't have to do it collectively.

"Everyone is buying into it. You are living a dream, you are getting to represent your county."

Or Donegal's Eamon McGee: "I got really, really mad reading Joe Brolly's article saying we're under pressure and we're slaves. I have never been in a dressing room where the door was locked. I could always leave.

"I just find it ridiculous. Joe Brolly is banging on about the pressures on the modern footballer and he's the man who called out Sean Cavanagh live on TV saying he's not a man. He made a personal attack on Rory Kavanagh as well, and Rory had to go into school and teach kids the following day."

The truth is that counties are working hard, but then amateur runners are working hard. The same for amateur cyclists, rowers, musicians, bricklayers and farmers. Hard work is a fact of life for most.

We don't have to feel sorry for inter-county stars. As McGee says, the door is always open.

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