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Excessive training puts stars' future at risk: expert

By Declan Bogue

Fergus Connolly, the former San Francisco 49ers strength and conditioning coach who has worked with a number of sports teams including the All-Ireland winning Dublin side, has delivered a stinging rebuke of the role of the Gaelic Players' Association, claiming it does not represent those who are being put through too much training.

The Monaghan man, who has also worked with Derry and the Welsh Rugby team, believes the over-training culture in Gaelic games is causing players severe injuries later in life.

His expertise has been sought by parents who have children going for hip, groin and shoulder surgeries.

He said: "Some of them are coming out of minor, some of them are playing Under-21 football. And you are asking and wondering, 'why is this happening?'

"Then you ask them what they are doing at training and for their training programme. They tell you and, well, it's a lot of running.

"They feel pressure because they feel that's what they have to do themselves.

"If you are a parent with young children going for surgery at that age, it's tantamount to child abuse."

Connolly believes the fault lies with the scale of training across multiple platforms that young players are expected to do.

He insisted: "It is not coming from playing the game, it's coming from training.

"Yes, somebody could pull a hamstring or whatever, but if it is something like an Achilles injury or a groin injury or hip surgery, that's over-use.

"And there is no excuse for over-use in an amateur sport."

Connolly cites his Scotstown clubmate Conor McCarthy who played two games for UCD in last weekend's Sigerson Cup, hosted at Jordanstown, before lining out for Monaghan Under-21s in a Shamrock Cup fixture against Tyrone.

"One inter-county player who I've spoken with before came to me for advice," he said.

"He has just played three games in three days over the past weekend. I hope to see this young man play for many years, but if this abuse continues the odds are not in his favour."

Connolly believes that the current generation of inter-county players are poorly served by the Gaelic Players' Association, who he believes are focusing on the wrong issues.

"It's easy for the GPA to talk about things like depression. Nobody is going to disagree with them. There are far bigger issues that they need to be addressing," he commented.

"It's no surprise we have such injuries. For example, Donegal's former physio admitted that one year recently, approximately three quarters of their injuries came in training, not matches.

"If a player association isn't concerned by this, what is it's real role?

"This is reported factual information that a group who had player welfare in mind could actually do something with."

Part of the problem in all of this, Connolly states, is the lack of understanding of what lessons Gaelic football teaches those that play it.

Recent studies into player 'burnout' by the GAA have brought about some recommendations from Central Council, which are to be discussed at this weekend's GAA Congress at Carlow.

Included among them will be the abolishment of the Under-21 football Championship. Instead, an Under-20 county competition would be established, played during the summer and precluding any player who is named on a senior Championship panel.

Such measures are met with Connolly's approval. He stated: "Never before have the GAA had a better administrator than Paraic Duffy to prioritise player welfare, but the GPA don't seem to have the same concerns.

"The GPA will tell you they are busy fundraising so they can 'raise awareness' about non-GAA specific issues like mental health, rather than challenging county boards or holding the GAA accountable on the really urgent and concerning issues, such as overuse injury."

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