Young players suffer under many masters

I heard a discussion on radio on player burn-out when a view was proffered that much of the blame may well be young players having to satisfy multiple managers, writes Nickey Brennan.

I heard a discussion on radio on player burn-out when a view was proffered that much of the blame may well be young players having to satisfy multiple managers, writes Nickey Brennan.

The inter-county season has already started and county managers demand a full commitment. If that means having to meet the early season inter-county training schedule while at the same time playing and training with their college then so be it.

When the Provincial Councils decided that colleges should have first call on their players it was seen as an effort to lessen the pressure of having to play with two teams early in the year.

This arrangement has generally worked well. There has been full compliance from the hurling fraternity, but some counties in Ulster refused to accept the decision in football.

The radio discussion mentioned the thorny subject of playing the main Third Level competitions, namely the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups in the Spring in direct competition with the National Leagues.

I am familiar with this subject having been involved with the Third Level GAA body for a number of years, mostly recently as chairman of a review group looking at all aspects of Third Level competitions.

There are many logistical reasons why the two Third Level competitions cannot be played until the Spring. The semester structure of a college year means that many have important exams towards the end of the year and at the start of the year.

It would be impossible to accommodate Third Level competitions in that period.

Young players who have made the breakthough to their county’s senior panel often find themselves in a real dilemma having to give a commitment to two demanding managers. In many cases the two individuals may never communicate to ensure excessive demands are not being placed on players.

It is worth noting also that the under-21 football championship is a Spring-based competition and clashes with the National Football League. This situation creates its own difficulties.

The problem does not exist in every county because good lines of communications are in place between the relevant team managers. It is an entirely different issue in other counties, especially where new team managers are involved.

The reality is that some County Board officers are unable to influence the communications lines between managers. Therein lies the crux of the problem.

Because such a scenario still exists more radical action is required to ensure the welfare of these young players.

Perhaps it is time for all Third Level players to be barred from any senior inter-county activity until their primary colleges competition has concluded. This would mean exclusion from the inter-county early season training and tournaments, plus the early rounds of the National Leagues.

Counties would be entitled to have access to all players for under-21 preparation (principally Gaelic football early months in the year), but this would also require a high level of co-operation between the county under-21 team manager and his college counterpart.

The number of young men who have undergone major surgery for various ailments is frightening. Gaelic games never had as many professionals working on the physical preparation of teams, yet the number of serious injuries shows no sign of abatement.

The scale of strength and conditioning training is also a factor. I accept the merits of such training. However, it may well be doing harm to some young athletes.

I see where the Cork Bórd-na-nÓg developed an App in conjunction with UCC to monitor the level of training undertaken by members of their Development Squads. The data is then assessed by suitably qualified individuals to ensure the players have a balanced training programme.

It might not be a bad idea if this process was to apply to all players under 21. Every County Board will have to become proficient in measuring the amount of training undertaken by players, otherwise there is a major danger some will be lost due to excessive demands on their bodies.