CONSIDERING the time of year with third level competitions near completion, player welfare or burnout is to the forefront of much discussion. It’s interesting at inter county level we have some players who in January and February, will have their most congested games schedule. In contrast we have other panel players who were in pre-season throughout this same period. You could say ‘only in the GAA.’
There have been many positives to the introduction of the split season, but one major issue is the completion of Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup competitions alongside the National League.
In football, the league has never been more important with the link between league performance and championship participation.
Squads can be still developing conditioning and match fitness at this early part of the season so a congested match schedule makes it very difficult.
You can certainly understand a manager’s frustration when players have to balance mid-week college fixtures with important weekend inter county league fixtures. Yes the player must be to the forefront of every decision, but it is very difficult for a manager to rest a player if he knows results in the first few league games can have a major effect on the rest of the season. This is a player who has reported fit to play and not a player who is taking a risk as he is already carrying a knock or niggle from the previous game.
In a county that had a poor 2022, positive results in early league games can also build confidence and much-needed momentum. These league games come thick and fast if you start badly it can be hard to change things around. You see it all the time in professional sport be it the Premier League football or the URC rugby. Many teams are either on winning or losing runs.
It has been proposed moving the start of National League or third level championships to before Christmas, Yes there will be less load on players but ultimately preparations will then ramp up early in the autumn-winter period and players will get no break. No matter what level a player is competing at, there must be a period where he or she puts the gear bag away and forgets about competing, recovery, planning, and physical preparation for a few weeks.
I think this is something successful All Ireland winners Dublin and Limerick have been good at. Yes it is easier to take a break when you have success but it is this break which has ensured they get a greater return from training when they do return collectively and better performances later in the year when it really matters.
It is hard to find a solution, unless we extend the inter-county season by a few weeks to create some breathing space or reduce the amount of championship games at third level. The more controversial option would be to restrict third level competitions to development players but then this would create uproar. Something has to change though.
Thinking of the same group of players, I would be in favour of returning the u-20 grade back to u-21 and similarly returning minor grade to u-18, both at club and county level.
Yes, it’s difficult for smaller clubs to not play with the talented 17 year olds but I would be in favour of decoupling at minor level. There is one proposal of potentially giving players a choice to play at adult level but this makes it very messy. Have one rule in place and after a period of time it will become the norm.
Similarly I think a player involved at u-20 or u-21 inter-county level should not play senior inter county while still competing at u-20 or u-21. Yes this idea would create angst among many but let the player focus on his level and once finished at u-20 or u-21 he can progress and compete at senior level for many years.
The argument has moved from too much training to too many games for a certain cohort of players. There have been big changes particularly with the moving of the All Irelands to the summer. It will be interesting to see what further changes are made over the next 12 months.
In the meantime let look forward to next week’s league action where some great games await in all divisions.