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We should follow the Australian example and put our players first

By Declan Bogue

I had a casual chat with Luke Hodge - you know, the Australian who pushed Paddy McBrearty into the post last Saturday night - the day before the game.

In discussing the key differences between AFL and Gaelic football, he was astonished to learn of the inflexible demands put on our players.

Aussie Rules games are hosted from Friday nights to Sunday evenings. If a game takes place on a Saturday, players instantly go into recovery mode, consuming their protein shakes and perhaps going for a stretch in the pool. Afterwards, it's early to bed.

Come Sunday, the players have a day off and will meet up for a few beers. As captain of Hawthorn and the Australian Rules selection of 13 all-Australians, Hodge emphasised how important it was for camaraderie that the team socialised together.

His relaxed demeanour also extended to how to prepare for games. On the Thursday before last weekend, the Aussies decided against a training session at Parnell Park, opting instead for a rest day.

On the day before a game, he oversees training - the 'Captain's Run'. Veterans are encouraged to take it easy.

In the AFL, free Wednesdays are compulsory, with many players taking a course of study or pursuing an interest for "life after footie" as (my good friend) Hodge calls it.

All this, added to the vast gulf in annual earnings, stands in stark contrast to the alcohol bans that end with binge-drinking and a culture of over-training.

It's little wonder that Des Ryan - the Galway man at the head of athletic development at Arsenal's Youth Academy - labelled the demands of young GAA players as unsustainable.

Speaking at a youth conference last week, Ryan noted how young men could play for several teams at once. He said: "Every coach will want 100 per cent involvement but there's no way this can happen or else burnout is an inevitability."

The professionals already have this sussed and the noises from grassroots in our game have been screaming this message for a long time now.

Perhaps it's time we listened.

Belfast Telegraph

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