Gaelic games: Is the real fun being squeezed out of things?

Ashling Dalton

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Ashling Dalton

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@kilkennypeoplesport

Gaelic games: Is the real fun being squeezed out of things?

If you are part of a club squad or are lucky enough to be involved in a county set-up, you might have heard the mantra being bellowed out by management teams.
It goes along the lines: “Now lads, it’s time to get ready for the new season. No one is to be seen drinking or near any bars from now until the end of championship. Anyone who decides they are the exception will find themselves off the team quicker than they can say Bulmers.”
The demands on inter-county players in particular has been a hot topic of late. Many ex-players have detailed the strict rules they must follow, even in their own private time, from their time involved at the highest level.
Kieran Bergin, a recently retired All-Ireland medal winner with Tipperary, added his voice to the masses pointing out that players must put their life on hold for an entire season in the hopes of winning silverware.
Bergin even went so far as to suggest that if he were 18 again and had the choice to play hurling, he wouldn’t bother.
“The level of commitment they are asking of you nowadays is to give up drink for the entire year. It’s ridiculous, no other sport asks you to do that,” he said.
“ If you are 18, you want to socialise. Then if you have a match coming up in eight or ten weeks you knuckle down for it.”
Bergin does have a point when insisting it was unfair to ask a young player of 18 or 20 to basically lock himself away until the season is over.
Perhaps there is a fine line there that can be easily crossed if players were left to own devices.
Most players aged 18 to 23 are probably in college, which demands its own commitment. Most students like to enjoy themselves and socialising in bars and nightclubs is a big part of that in Ireland.
The easy solution to deal with the demands on young players is for management to let the players decide how committed they want to be to their sport, be it hurling, football or whatever.
However, that wouldn’t always be the best solution. Some players can stray easily if given a free rein between matches and this can obviously lead to a lack of focus which leads on to poor performances.
Time Frame
Perhaps the most practical answer to either problem would be to, as Kieran Bergin suggested, introduce a time frame before matches. This could be three or four weeks before a game.
The players could train and prepare for matches, and maybe curb the socialising until after the game when they should be allowed to let off steam if needs be.
The main reason for these season long drinking bans from management teams is, apparently, that they don’t trust their players to commit fully to what is being asked of them.
This in turn leads to the players becoming frustrated at management’s lack of trust. If there is a lack of trust on either side, trouble can brew.
Of course, strict management set-ups also operate with adult club squads.
As much as we might think that this is a problem that exists mostly in hurling, that’s not thee case.
Feeling The Strain
Gaelic football teams that may not be as successful as Dublin, Mayo and Kerry, for example, are feeling the strain too.
The bar has been raised. The thinking is ‘if they are doing this, we must do it too, be as professional as they are’.
The Dublin way has led to increased demands on players in other counties.
Finances come into play here big time. Counties like Louth or Offaly, for example, simply cannot afford to spend the kind of money on their county teams that Dublin can.
Yet they expect the same level of commitment.
This raises another serious issue.
Some players in the so called weaker counties don’t feel the commitment is worth it because they have no chance of winning silverware.
Not that is a problem, a big problem to deal with, in an amateur game environment.
Former Meath footballer, Jim Sheridan, in a recent interview with the Irish Examiner, went so far as to suggest players nearly detest the inter-county set-up because of the “suffocating” demands.
Is the dream of playing with your county and wearing the jersey slowly turning into a nightmare for some because of demands, an overpacked match schedule, drinking bans and intense training regimes?
“I retired because of the commitment. Lads are nearly detesting the county setup as a result. You are training and giving up a lot in your own life, and for what? You get to a point where you ask yourself, is it all worth it?”
It is easy to appreciate Joe Sheridan’s view. He is not alone.
What is the point in giving in to all these demands if the rewards in terms of medals are not there?
There is another side to the story, however. Players in successful counties have a different view, shaped by the high of success and the benefits that flow from it.
Kilkenny’s Eddie Brennan weighed in on the debate by suggesting drinking bans were not the answer.
He disagreed completely with them.
“When I played with Kilkenny Brian Cody trusted us to do the right thing,” he said. “He trusted us to have a suitable number of pints at the right time. If you have to tell a group of adults not to drink, then you have a problem.”
There are a lot of players around Ireland who wish other managers would follow Brian Cody’s lead and simply trust them, and strike a reasonable balance between work and play.
Cody created a culture where the primary focus for players was to get on the starting team, no matter how great or hard the sacrifice.
While it is still the dream of GAA players to pull on the jersey, it is up to clubs, County Boards, management teams and players to strike a balance and keep that dream an attractive one.