Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Joe Kernan: Why our stars have to worry about burning out

Not so long ago the close season in GAA terms meant just that - a shutdown on all playing activity.

But in recent years, the fixtures programme has embraced all twelve months, thus ensuring that many players are afforded little or no opportunity to re-charge their batteries.

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the Croke Park chiefs have issued an ultimatum that there is to be no collective county team training during the months of November and December.

I can certainly see where the authorities are coming from - but from the perspective of an individual player, is it wise to spend two months in hibernation?

Surely this would only offer players the opportunity to perhaps pursue their interest in another sport or perhaps allow themselves to become totally out of condition?

There is no doubt, though, that burn-out is still a factor within the GAA - and yet this is totally avoidable.

Many players are currently required on at least five fronts - by their clubs at perhaps senior and Under 21 level, by their counties at these levels and by their universities.

This means that they invariably face a hectic year - and that’s all fine and dandy as long as they retain their full fitness.

But what happens when they are injured?

That’s when I feel the pressures really mount on players.

They find themselves pressed into service when they are far from recovered, are denied the proper rehab and invariably then discover that they are out of the sport for longer than had initially been envisaged.

I know that all team managers feel they have a responsibility to field their strongest side, particularly in important matches but I also believe that they have a duty of care in relation to the players under their command.

To encourage players to turn out when they are clearly far from fit is, at best, an extremely dubious practice.

I have known a lot of players who have had protracted spells out of gaelic football because they were not afforded the proper time and scope in which to return to full fitness after injury.

Yet it is questionable if a two-month sabbatical is in the best interests of players.

I feel that the vast majority of players will want to pursue their own individual training regimes during November and December even though collective squad training is not just frowned upon - it is totally outlawed.

But those teams who are still in their Club Championships are currently finding themselves going flat-out for success.

And this means training and playing at an intensity that might not even be witnessed in high summer.

Crossmaglen Rangers are still in the hunt to retain their Ulster Club crown and over the years they have perhaps played in more league and championship games of various hues than most teams.

But they have always placed special emphasis on guarding against burn-out and affording injured players maximum opportunity to regain full a fill level of fitness.

In this respect, players like John McEntee, Francie Bellew and others have been able to remain at the top because they have looked after themselves and been treated with respect by their various managers who have not called on their services when they were clearly not fit.

County team medical bills have soared of late - but that’s only because players are being looked after properly.

Sure, the bills are going up but aren’t all bills?

Would anyone want to be working for the same wages they were getting twenty years ago? I think not.

Crossmaglen, Ballinderry, Cavan Gaels and St Eunan’s will certainly be hoping to avoid medical bills, though, as a result of their continuing involvement in the Ulster Club series.

The Rangers v St Eunan’s semi-final on Sunday will prove interesting while the Cavan Gaels v Ballinderry fixture also holds a lot of appeal.

I hope Brendan Devanney is fit to face the Rangers and I will certainly observe with interest the performances of the clutch of county stars who will figure in the Ballinderry- Gaels contest.

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