Breaking Ball: The Inter-county game like a juggernaut out of control

Do county managers have too much of a hold on players?

Breaking Ball: The Inter-county game like a juggernaut out of control

It's now a common statement - “The county manager has agreed to release the county players this weekend to play for their clubs.”

Or “county players have been released back to their clubs for weekend fixtures.”

It has now become the norm in every county at this time of the year - county players are released, with the consent of the county manager, back to play for their clubs.

It seems the manager has the authority to say whether or not a player can tog out for his home club. Does anyone see anything wrong with this statement? Has anyone ever questioned why such authority was given to county managers? Who sanctioned such authority and since when did players become the property of the county or indeed for that matter, a club?

It’s the norm throughout the country, in hurling and football, from adult to underage. I go back to something I heard on a radio sports programme one night. Tomás Ó Sé, the former Kerry great summed up county football as well as I have heard: “Inter-county football is like a juggernaut that no one will stop.”

He hit the nail on the head because while we get the usual line that the club is the most important and we must protect our amateur status at all costs, the biggest cash cow the GAA have is of course, the football championship.

It’s presented now along the same way as premiership soccer with expert analysis and up to date computer software used to explain to the viewers where this player should have been in some tactical plan or another.

We get the usual outrageous statement from one pundit or another just to get people talking, no matter who they insult, denigrate or slander. It doesn’t matter, it’s done in the premise that it’s “all part of the game”.

If the player feels the need to answer the critics he has to up his game, never mind that the pundit could be so full of it that no matter what the player did, he would never be able to answer the criticism that’s labelled at him.

I have never made any secret of the fact that I personally feel that players are not looked after nearly well enough. Of course this is and always has been a very touchy subject with those at the top within the organisation. Remember when the Cork players went on strike and the county board took in a new group of players?. They fulfilled the fixtures but put Cork hurling back t20 years. Why? Because they (the county board) were not going to bend to the demand of players.

They were prepared to sacrifice the game itself just because they believed they were right.

Back to the statement at the top of the piece. There are a couple of questions that need to be addressed. If the players, in every sense of the word, belong to the county team, who is responsible for the welfare of the player when he or she is finished playing?

Who is responsible for any long term injuries that he or she may have picked up while training or playing with the relevant county team? Who should be responsible for any costs or lost earnings that may come from these injuries and who is going to pick up the pieces when the player in question is told that he or she is not good enough to play for the county?

Remember all these questions apply both to adult and to underage players, age is not an issue here. There is no difference playing for the county minor team than playing for the seniors, you still represent your county so you should be treated accordingly.

Should the county board be held responsible for every player that pulls on a county jersey? Should those that run the show in Croke Park be held accountable?

Maybe the club should have to carry the can.

One of the biggest findings out of a case in which past players from American football clubs sued the N.F.L., their governing body, was that in the judgement against the N.F.L, it was believed the organisation itself had a “duty of care” towards its playing members.

While the case itself attracted little headlines on this side of the Atlantic, eyebrows were raised within players’ representative bodies all over the world, even across the Irish sea, where the English F.A are in consultation with the players union about who exactly is responsible for those players who were left crippled by playing their sport.

If it happens that a similar judgement or settlement is made in England, it may be only a matter of time before such a case is taken in Ireland.

Remember we are asking players to train harder than ever before. We are asking now for a greater commitment than ever before.

We are engaging with children from 14 upwards at county level. They are being told they are the stars of the future.

The idea may be that some parents believe their sons or daughters will be “looked after” in some special way. But that would be best described as naive to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong, it was indeed both a pleasure and an honour to play for Donegal. But it was more about the players you played with and the supporters that followed us.

The commitment level has been raised to a completely different level now. Players are being asked to go way beyond the call of duty to prepare just to play a game.

So where does the duty of care lie?