Joe Kernan: At all levels we can see a growing fear of burn-out
It is generally recognised that never in the history of the GAA has team preparation, particularly at inter-county level, been so intense and as concentrated as it is right now.
Over the course of the past five years in particular, numerous innovations to training schedules mean that even more commitment and dedication are required from players.
Yet while this pronounced desire for success is admirable, there is now a real fear that some county team bosses are making too many demands on the players under their command.
This has been highlighted by GAA Director General Paraic Duffy who has expressed the belief that managers are putting an intolerable strain on players.
It has not escaped my notice that there has not exactly been a headlong rush to disagree with the sentiments expressed by Duffy.
Indeed, it would seem that many managers silently acknowledge the point he is making but prefer to keep their options open in terms of the workload that they might wish to impose on their players.
The notion that some counties are making contingency plans for undertaking some 120 training sessions over the next nine months certainly does not find favour with Duffy or indeed with several managers.
Different players require different levels of training and it has to be remembered that many members of county squads are also playing with third level colleges’ teams, the majority of which are already in full training for the Sigerson Cup.
This being the case, such players should not be expected to drive themselves beyond their physical limits when training with their counties.
On the other hand, players who are new to county squads or who may be coming back from injury or indeed who have put on excess weight will be expected to push themselves through the pain barrier in striving to gain what would be considered to be an acceptable level of fitness.
I welcome the ‘staggered’ return to training for county squads, the actual starting date for each county having been designated by the timing of their exit from this year’s All Ireland championship.
The vast majority of teams now have considerable work done but the GAA pre-season pales into insignificance when compared to the pre-season work undertaken in other sports such as rugby, soccer and hockey.
Up until this year a ban had been imposed on county squad training in November and December yet teams were expected to start playing competitive matches in the opening week of the New Year. How ridiculous was that!
Happily, the powers that be have now seen some sense yet the GAA still lags some way behind other sports in terms of proper preparation for a new campaign.
The suggestion has been made that players are afraid to take issue with managers who impose a heavy work-load on them but this situation should never be allowed to arise.
Sports science has moved on, training and conditioning are now more sophisticated and the treatment of injuries and rehabilitation processes are more advanced thus ensuring that players can expand their training schedules while having their recovery from injuries expedited.
But there are still fears surrounding the demands which can be made on the many young players who have projected themselves into the limelight early in their careers and now find themselves serving club, college and county.
Into this bracket come people such as Peter Harte (Tyrone), David Givney (Cavan), Donal O’Hare (Down) and Michael Stevenson (Armagh).
The onus is now clearly on county boards to liaise with managers to make sure that player welfare remains a priority.
Paraic Duffy makes no bones about it when he declares that the boards in tandem with the managers have to find out what is right for players and act accordingly.
Thus it is up to managers to exercise what Duffy refers to as “good judgement” in determining just what precise training work-load each player should undertake.
I have always believed that ball-work should play a big part in training otherwise the whole exercise could become boring.
Players love to work with the ball and while I accept that certain levels of fitness have initially to be built up, skills can only be honed and perfected with the ball in hand.
The word ‘burnout’ has had considerable connotations within the GAA of late and is still regarded as a danger that lurks just beneath the surface in most counties.
Nothing is designed to dilute players’ interest or indeed take a toll on their physical prowess more than five nights training on a weekly basis particularly in the depths of winter when elements are, at best, unfriendly. They are amateurs after all and as GAA president Liam O’Neill commented, earlier this year “we as an Association do not own the players.”
Enlightened managers can plan their players’ workload carefully and hopefully in 2013 we will see much more of this in evidence.