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Declan Bogue: GAA chiefs have gone cold on warm weather camps

Sunny days: the International Rules squad train in Melbourne, however there is concern over how several counties have taken trips abroad for training camps
Sunny days: the International Rules squad train in Melbourne, however there is concern over how several counties have taken trips abroad for training camps
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

On these very pages a fortnight ago, we detailed how the Armagh senior football team were heading to Portugal for a week's warm weather training.

Nothing wrong with that either. The county board had scheduled in four weekends to fulfil their obligations to the misnomer entitled 'Club Month' and did due diligence with the Central Competitions Control Committee to get the all-clear for the training camp, which was due to finish on Easter Sunday.

Armagh released a statement to this effect, adding: "It has always been the case during our fixture planning that this time (Easter Sunday) is kept free, if our competitions have already commenced."

Point of order. Easter 2018 fell on April 1. Most counties started their leagues on the Saturday night, March 31, in order to get five rounds of games played.

Armagh were under no obligation to do so of course, unless you want to truly cater for club players.

Back to the main thrust however, and the fact that two days after news of Armagh's trip, the story broke that the GAA will now no longer tolerate foreign training camps. Not only that, but home-based training camps will be restrained to a limit of three days.

Even for those of us spending our working life keeping tabs on these things, the GAA can cause your head to spin trying to keep up with it all.

Only last February, the rule regarding foreign training camps - which were not to be permitted unless they were within 10 days of their first Championship game - was relaxed by a caveat passed at Congress that left sufficient opportunity to fudge the issue if it came up again.

And two days after the issue did reappear, the GAA clarified that the whole thing is more hassle than it is worth.

Armagh are deserving of some pity in the way all of this has been shoddily handled. Last year, an investigation probed up to 17 counties, but handed down punishments to a handful, including Armagh.

The Laois footballers had spent a long weekend in Kerry. They, too, joined Armagh in the naughty corner.

The punishments weren't exactly scorching deterrents. Laois lost home advantage for a league game against Louth and it was hosted in Croke Park instead.

Armagh, who play Down in the coming weeks in the Ulster Championship in Newry, were ordered to play Clare 'away' from home in Newry. A reminder; a decent portion of the Pairc Esler ground is actually in Armagh. With that Ulster Championship meeting a few months down the track, they will have become even more familiar with the ground of a side they weren't going to meet in the league. Armagh's mistake, it transpires, was actually telling the truth. At the Ulster Championship launch last summer, assistant manager Jim McCorry talked about the work that had gone into their training camp in the Algarve.

When it emerged that the Wexford hurlers and Dublin footballers had been away, every last detail was thought out.

It's worth re-running Wexford hurler Lee Chin's explanation about their time in Portugal: "We didn't (train). We went out and we decided that we just wanted to relax in each other's company and that's what we went out and did. We did not train once out there.

"We decided to go off together and have a bit of fun in each other's company because we hadn't been around each other the last couple of weeks."

Dublin were away the same week to the Ulster Tower, Thiepval, close to Amiens, where captain Stephen Cluxton laid a blue and navy wreath in memory of Irishmen that died in the First World War.

The following week, Ciaran Kilkenny said: "No, there wasn't any training at all really to the trip. More so it was going around and visiting these different places."

There's no credible reason as to how the GAA let some counties off without sanction, as pitiful as they were. The excuses offered are so bizarre as to be laughable, many an eyebrow was raised that young men in their 20s would voluntary traipse along to look at war memorials.

Or that lads who had been spending the past six months in each other's company four, five times a week decided the one thing they needed to unwind was to all go away and stay with each other?

Somewhere along the way, a group within the management structures of the GAA must have grown weary of the incessant coverage and questioning of these trips. Media do not begrudge players foreign training camps, but they will doggedly pursue double standards when others would be quite happy to brush the story under the carpet.

What will also be bothering them is the soaring costs of preparing a typical inter-county team. Last year, then-Roscommon manager Kevin McStay said that it was costing €15,000 a week to run the senior football team alone.

"But that's where some of the counties are," said McStay.

"They are living from week to week, month to month, trying to survive. I just don't see where we personally can cut any more corners."

It seems in banning foreign training camps, the GAA have identified one.

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