Last Monday sitting in the stand of MacCumhaill Park, watching the U-21 finals between Killybegs and Letterkenny Gaels in the B final and Gaoth Dobhair and Ballyshannon in the A final I asked myself why is it we make the future players of our sport play what is for many of them the biggest day in their sport careers to date a final two days after playing in the semi-finals?
Both games were excellent; players in both games kicked some marvellous scores and served us with open, entertaining football but what was noticeable in both games was in the last ten minutes players were out on their feet.
Which brings me to my main question; does the GAA as an organisation not have a duty of care towards their playing members? Are they not responsible for the welfare of players who are asked to play two championship games in three days? Is it fair on those players who have probably trained since March in anticipation of the fixtures to be asked to put all that commitment and hard work on the line just so the fixtures could be tidied up at the end of the year?
Why? We ask our players repeatedly to respect each other, the match officials and those who administer our games yet where is the respect in return?
I must make one thing clear. This is not a shot at those in this county who take it on board to make the fixtures; their job is impossible. They are under pressure not only from clubs but also have to take into consideration the wishes of county managers and have only a small window to get everything played.
This is a national problem. There is not a county in the country who do not have this problem, and while I have no intention of getting into it now, it is only going to get worse.
I am only taking last Monday’s games as an example of what is generally happening everywhere. Yet the lads in Croke Park want to add in more intercounty games and thus hamper club fixtures further.
Why is it that we run into the same problem year after year and in a couple of weeks when the end of year reports come out, we will hear all about what is going to be done for the club player in the years ahead. What is going to be done to ease the burden on the younger players that have found themselves in a position where they are playing for three or four teams and training four or five times a week. It will be the usual end of year stuff. It will sound great but don’t expect anything different next year.
When we look at players we tend to think of the lads that play for the county, but the majority of players play club football and they surely deserve better than what they are being offered at the moment. Not every club can afford to look after their players in the same way as their intercounty counterparts. There is no medical help or physios at training sessions, or indeed games, to look after injuries. There is no provision in a club’s budget for after care or loss of earnings for injured players, yet they’re expected to perform and give the same sort of commitment as those pulling on the county jersey.
In the last few years the same sort of expectations have flowed down into our underage games. Young lads are being asked to train three and four times a week, strength and conditioning programme are being handed to U-16s in order for them to “build themselves up”. The game has gone mad with the winning at all costs mantra.
We, as an organisation, whether it’s official or not, are asking our players, both adult and underage, to develop themselves outside the norm. We are asking them to forget everything else that life has to offer just to play our national games. Maybe with the promise of something at the other end if you reach the Holy Grail. If the player doesn’t commit to the required level, he is ridiculed and often he is seen as someone who didn’t realize his talent. It’s a put down, as if the player was going to make anything out of a career playing GAA.
We could point the finger at managers but when you consider that many intercounty and indeed many club managers are on considerable “expenses” it’s no wonder they want as much out of each player as they can get and when the player does not fit in with what they want, they’re disposed of.
But are the authorities not aware of this? Are they so naive to think that this is not going on? The statistics on past players needing operations and knee, hip and ankle replacements are out there. The amount of injuries that a modern club or intercounty player will get in their short career are now at immense levels. 20 years from now who is going to look after those players? Clubs and probably many county boards will not be in any position to sort them out, so who should?
I can hear the arguments now in every club room and county board meeting; we can’t be looking after something that happened that long ago, but surely there is a duty of care; surely all the money being lifted at gates, sponsorship deals, television contracts and other sources is not just for building new pitches, fancier stadiums or funding more committees who just talk and do very little. Sometimes this little country just drives you mad.
On a more positive note both games played last Monday were a joy to watch; some brilliant open play with some great scores, the players on all four teams should be congratulated for the way they approached the game and their commitment to their parish. Imagine if they had got a rest what it could have been like.