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Armagh's Kieran McGeeney: Training myth is baffling

By Declan Bogue

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney has questioned the 'elite' label that is frequently linked to the training commitments of inter-county footballers.

The 2002 All-Ireland winning captain echoed the views of former Irish Olympian Jerry Kiernan, who questioned GAA players receiving Irish government grants while Olympic athletes struggle financially.

McGeeney is puzzled by a number of columnists who regularly make claims of twice-daily training sessions throughout the week. He said: "I still can't see where GAA players train that hard. We don't train hard despite what people may say - any other sport trains much harder. The whole amateur thing is brought in again, they're all amateurs in this country."

Asked how that looks in the face of statistics showing a high rate of injuries in Gaelic football, he replied: "It's a contact sport, you have the same amount of injuries in rugby at amateur level and the same amount of injuries in soccer. Our game is a 360 degree sport, it's much more open to things.

"But I've done most of the training and I've seen other players do most of the training and you train twice a week - Tuesdays and Thursdays - that's what you do.

"You train on Tuesdays and Thursdays and you have gym sessions and if you have a game (then you play it). Most people who have any keep-fit regime do that."

Where the commitment levels rise, McGeeney maintains, is in the distances involved in getting to and from sessions, given recent population shifts and urbanisation.

"We do a lot of travelling because of parochialism and we play where we're from, so there is a lot of travelling involved," he said. "But there is an age group that is pulled in every direction especially at this time of year - the younger group - we overload at this time of year. By the end of February most players will have half their games played at inter-county level."

He also drew attention to the manner in which the fixtures calendar is heavily-loaded towards the beginning of the year, with pre-season tournaments, National League, Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups and the Under-21 Championships all having been played or in full flow by March.

"Our main problem is our fixtures," he reasoned. "In most other sports you play for a team. For example, if Brian O'Driscoll was making the (Ireland rugby) senior squad at 19 he didn't play for the U19s or the U20s, he played for the seniors and he didn't play for the university either.

"There's a whole lot of different things but that's where we are, there is a group of young players that get pulled in every direction and it's tough on them."

However, McGeeney did not go as far as suggesting that a similar system could apply in Gaelic games.

"All I can say is that there are issues and most of them revolve around the fixtures, everybody knows that but the fixtures won't change," he explained.

"We play seven league games in a year over three months which is ridiculous, then the Championship is over another four months and most people have two games.

"Inter-county players play an average of nine games a year for the majority - two Championship and seven League games over a nine-month calendar and that's one every four weeks.

"If you want to fit Sigerson, Under-21s and club into that it's just the way it has to be."

He also expressed concern for the workload of promising talents.

"We have some young players coming through and it's just getting them enough game-time. This time of year is quite a tough time of year for them," he said.

"Player burn-out is an issue. Senior players, who don't play from July to December, and all the school, minor, U21 and college age kids have a compacted time."

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