Gap between top and bottom widens

Manus Boyle's Breaking Ball

Gap between top and bottom widens

Patrick McBrearty will miss Donegal's game against Dublin

A few weeks back the Offaly hurling manager, Kevin Ryan, gave an interview after his side were well beaten by Galway in the National Hurling League. They lost by 6-23 to 1-12 in front of a poor crowd at O’Moore Park.

Offaly hurling is at low ebb. Long gone are the days of winning Leinster and All-Ireland titles. They are no longer the kingpins they once were and will do well not to drop another division this year.

What was interesting about Ryan’s interview was his views on how difficult it was to get players to come through. He suggested that because Offaly have had little success in the last 20 years the players have little to inspire them. He went on to say that if Waterford wanted 50 players to come in in the morning, they would get them, while Offaly, on the other hand, were struggling to get 30 players. The Waterford players can smell success is not far away and it’s easy to entice them.

Of course Kevin Ryan is not the only manager in the country with this problem, but it was the fact that he said it, no dancing around other issues like other commitments, taking breaks or any of that other stuff; he said it as he seen it.

In a nutshell players were not interested in committing if they had no chance of success. Why would they put their lives on hold without any prospect of getting their hands on a bit of silverware? Of course there is nothing wrong with that. Everyone has to be able to dream but realistically that’s not the way the world works. How many times have we seen the Leicester City story come to life. The odds are always stacked against the weaker counties.

If the commitment to be involved with a county team was not as time consuming maybe more players wouldn’t be as reluctant to get involved. However, that is not the case. Even club managers want their players to put everything else on hold just to be part of their squad.

There seems to be no one shooting stop. County boards are spending small fortunes on teams with the hope of a breakthrough. They all want to compete with the likes of Tipperary and Kilkenny in hurling and Dublin and Kerry in football but what many forget is that the infrastructure in the aforementioned counties has been set in stone for years.

When was the last time you heard anyone from those four counties giving out about club fixtures or a county player suggesting that they were not looked after in the proper manner? Of course if players and county boards in the so called weaker counties decided they weren’t going to bother anymore, the games would come to a halt and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

I’m not one of those who would suggest on restrictions being put on the better sides so the rest could catch up. No, let everyone else do the groundwork and get there by doing the right thing the right way.

Let’s go back to Mr Ryan’s main issue. Why can we not convince players to commit to playing for their county? Has the time being demanded from intercounty managers become too extreme? Of course it has. It’s bordering on ridiculous but no one is prepared to shout stop. We have young lads not yet reaching their prime withdrawing from intercounty squads throughout the country because of the demands placed on them.

Last year, after a string of poor results, a number of the Offaly hurlers decided to pack it in because of the barrage of abuse on social media. There are loads of those stories knocking about. You will get those who will tell you it’s all part of the game and it comes with the territory, but it doesn’t. No player, no official or indeed administrator should be subject to abuse of that sort; it’s a game; there are more important things and, yes, people get carried away but the organisation should be the ones shouting stop.

It was interesting listening to Donegal team doctor, Kevin Moran, discussing the increase of serious injuries in Gaelic games, many of which, he said, resembled that of car injuries. With training programmes that centre around strength and conditioning and players doing more training in the gym, they are getting bigger and stronger; the injuries are shifting from being contact to collision injuries. The doctor does say that while such collision injuries are rare, it’s important for those looking after players to be aware of the risks when these collisions happen.

The question that has to be asked is. ‘how big do you need to be’? How fit do you have to be and where does it stop; are coaches and managers placing far too much emphasis on fitness and not enough on the natural skills? Do we pick players now on their athletic ability or on their natural talent? Have we enough information about the problems that may occur down the road for these players and who is going to be responsible when these very same players, who fill grounds all around the country, need a new hip or knee; who is going to look after them?

Like every sport we have our problems and maybe we can understand why Kevin Ryan and many other coaches are having difficulty getting players to commit. But rather than bury our heads in the sand we need to find answers and soon.