I have been listening to the experts for a number of months now discuss the ‘player burnout’ topic. In fact it has been discussed on and off for the best part of a decade now. I don’t know about you, but I am beginning to suffer a little burnout myself listening to and, on occasion, talking about it.
I sometimes wonder is it only in Gaelic games that participants are susceptible to, or suffer from, ‘burnout’. Because, I have to say, with hand on heart, that I have never heard of a player complain of fatigue during the winter months. On the other hand, I have rested players during the months of April/May, particularly those who have been involved in a long Sigerson Cup campaign. It is often these young players who suffer most as they are invariably pushed to their limits by college managers demanding championship fitness during the months of March and early April. I discovered during my time in management that the main problem was the lack of communication taking place between the college managers and their inter-county counterparts, who were themselves introducing very strenuous pre-season training routines. Players are the greatest asset of our association and must be protected, sometimes even from themselves and their desires to tog out and play every time they are requested to do so.
Whether we agree or disagree with the decision it was decided to introduce a closed season during the months of November and December, with the notion that this break would protect our younger players who are in danger of burnout. When a decision of this nature is introduced by a task force in Croke Park, I suspect very little thought was given to the policing of the supposed suspension of inter-county training. It was decided that any team caught training would receive a heavy financial penalty from Croke Park. I know of three teams that trained a couple of nights every week for the last few months and I know they went undetected! (I suspect it’s not easy to get someone to snoop around the country trying to detect inter-county teams conducting illegal training sessions! ) Several others organised group sessions in different parts of the county in order to evade detection! Others, I believe, carried on training with forwards and midfielders at one end of the field and defenders at the other. In certain instances the manager/coach walked around the perimeter of the field in disguise. In fact the whole thing was one big joke as far as I am concerned. It just didn’t work. If there was a winner with this decision, it was undoubtedly the county boards. It costs hundreds of thousands to train and prepare football and hurling teams these days, so county treasurers were delighted with the two month break. The majority of the players on the other hand wouldn’t have been nearly as enamoured with not having their travelling expenses paid every weekend.
Too much too young?
Anyway the show got on the road last weekend with a huge number of games in every province. I don’t mind admitting it, but I didn’t travel to any game as I just didn’t have the appetite for GAA action last Sunday. I heard during the week that Mayo would struggle to get 15 players onto the field for a combination of reasons. Some of our big guns are not yet ready to return to the fray, one or two are on holiday, and Ronan McGarrity is presumably on honeymoon, having tied the knot in recent days. Keith Higgins is in Australia until April or May and several others were togging out for colleges around the country. With the third level colleges having first call on three county players Mayo were down to the bare threads in numbers. This meant a few of our minors from last year were togged for this game. Aidan O’Shea got the start at full forward and Kevin Keane was handed the number three jersey. I think it is to soon to have two of last year’s minors togging out in a senior fixture. It would be more prudent to have these lads introduced to a panel next May or after they complete their Leaving Certificate next June. Nonetheless I believe they battled bravely to the end, but weren’t good enough to beat NUIG.
The new rules
However the big talking point from the majority of fixtures around the country was the new rules. It has been decided, on an experimental basis, to issue yellow cards to players for highly disruptive fouls during this competition and the National League. The dismissed player must leave the action, but can be replaced by a team member for the remainder of the game. On too many occasions players are being yellow-carded for 'offences' that do not warrant yellow cards while there are also too many incidents where offences committed by a player that should have been punished by a straight red card but instead the player involved 'escapes' with a yellow! Last Sunday Peadar Gardiner (of all people! ) was dismissed 10 minutes into the second half for what was apparently a very innocuous foul. His replacement was on the field for a matter of minutes before he too was issued a yellow for a rather harsh foul. Before the commencement of the National Football League in a few weeks’ time Croke Park may have to revisit this experimental rule. If not, referees will be subjected to lots of abuse from fans as there is a real fear that we are over sanitising our game. We all want to see a bit of manliness in our games. If not, fans may as well stay at home and do their nails!
Elsewhere I see where the Dubs had a good victory over Offaly in the O’Byrne Cup last Sunday. What was interesting about this is the fact that the Dubs had 40 players out in La Manga, warm weather training. It was players outside of this group that handed Ritchie Connor’s Offaly a five point defeat. I have suggested here before that the Dubs have the population base at the moment to have two inter-county teams. Could we handle that?