As the club season gets into gear are, we about to be faced with the same questions and arguments that have stained the relationship between clubs and county teams all over the country.
Even those counties who rarely hit the headlines are asking the questions about the club v county problem that has been the reason for the establishment of the Club Players' Association.
Over the years I have come to the opinion that regardless of what we as past players believe or even want, the game and the Association has changed a great deal and the same expectations that were placed on players 20 to 30 years ago are not important now.
County players are expected to be as dedicated as professional athletes; they are expected to give their lives over to playing for their county and any less is not acceptable. This has become the norm, even in those counties where success does not come around on a regular basis.
Many modern day county players are also students; they will have played college football or hurling and just as they commit to their club and county, they have to show the same energy and enthusiasm for their college if they want to get on. So being committed to many teams, managers and coaches will take it’s toll over the years and players at one point or another will make the choice of what is important to them.
Playing for your county is not only a great honour but with the advent of social media and the super coverage that Gaelic games get now, it gives players the opportunity to advance their off-the-field career for when the time comes to hang up their boots.
Players are placed between a rock and a hard place. They have grown up being coached by local club volunteers, they as players have trained exceptionally hard, they have put endless hours of practice and training into their pasttime and now they get a chance to play to a wider audience while at the same time being expected to give the same commitment to their club. Is this really possible? Can we expect anyone to serve two masters?
County managers, on the other hand, have been given the job of making their county successful. As we have seen from our own county accounts last year, huge money is being spent to get every county team to the highest level. With all this investment comes expectation and pressure on the manager and his management team to garner success.
In order to achieve that success they need their players in the right place; they plan training for the league, allow the players to rest a bit and then start preparations for the championship. To many this should be simple, but with the advancement in sports science, nutrition, strength and conditioning, injury prevention and game management, nothing is left to chance. It’s no longer training Tuesday and Thursday evening with a bit of ball work, some running with a few press-ups throw in for good measure.
Clubs also have their expectations. Those that see the importance of the club ahead of the county want the players to be available to them and don’t accept that the county should have control on when the players are allowed to play for their clubs. The clubs believe they have invested the time to get the players to where their at and without the clubs where would the players come? Sometimes the arguments get personal and county managers, county officers and players are openly criticised for their lack of commitment to their home town club.
In the middle of all this there are the players; they have no voice. Tradition have made many of their decisions for them, because in the past players were available for their clubs for the best part of the year. Many believe that it should be no different now. Taking into consideration the commitments levels that players are expected to give now and what was expected in the past, I don’t see that as much of an argument. Players can only be expected to do so much and they also have to be given time to have a life away from their pastime.
Ask any player, they will give you the standard reply, of course they want to play for their club but what do we expect them to say. They don’t want to cause anyone any harm and just want to do what they love doing and are good at it.
The GAA has changed; it has become a corporate juggernaut with big businesses lining up to be associated with both the football and hurling championship. Without that sponsorship and the big gates, the money could not filter down to clubs and without that we would not have the facilities that we have now and only could have dreamed of 20 or 30 years ago.
Is there a happy medium. Of course there is but finding it comes down to getting an agreement between county teams and clubs and most importantly taking into consideration the health and wellbeing of those that make our games great.