Across Ireland in the months of late October, November and the Christmas month of December all GAA players with aspirations of representing their beloved county are being asked to get the boots ready, the gumshields cleaned and the dark training gear threw into the gear bags. All this preparation to play in a mini competition and try and make a name for themselves against other players from competing counties hoping to do the same. There are arguments for and against these so- called competitions. I hesitate to call them that but what teams will be going full pelt to win them. Usually it comes down to which counties have the most strength in depth that come out the other end victorious.
One of the main issues facing the GAA which pops up every year is player burnout. How can these competitions which are ran in the supposed off season be any good for this, after all November was supposed to be a non – training month for intercounty panels. Anyone that had driven past any of the centres of excellence in the cold days of November and you will see lights on and players doing their intense regimes in the gym and on the pitches. Added to this the fact that some of these players may have had gruelling provincial commitments with their clubs which run parallel with these intercounty tournaments is the word “burnout” being used by the hierarchy as basically all smoke no fire, and a token gesture that they know about it but aren’t really or willing to do anything about it. These are young lads who are always going to push themselves to get that coveted panel position, but it is now becoming more prevalent that young players are pulling up with injuries and you also may notice that the retirement age has dropped going from different reports from several counties. This could be mainly down to not getting a break all year.
Off course there is an argument for these tournaments, ask any manager and they would prefer to have a half competitive game as opposed to a training session mainly due to the fact that they can keep an eye on performance levels on a match day against rival competitors as opposed to watching their players do well in training against a player possibly of lower skill level who won’t make their panel anyway. Managers had been using excuses for their panel meeting up through-out November but GAA hierarchy have eased the regulations if they run their training schedules by them first. Why have such a rule if it is not to be adhered too? The winter months in Ireland are not best known for their lovely weather. It can be dark early and the rain and to a lesser extent the snow can fall. Can a player who does well on these days under lights put in the same performance on a hot day in mid-august in Croke Park. Most of the players on the panels at the start of these tournaments are young lads hoping to make their breakthrough be it from the minor or u21 levels. They may be not fully grown or as physically tested before as they will in the senior game, so it is a good way to gauge where players are at in their progression. At the end of the day young fellas or girls love GAA and love their county and they will push themselves to do whatever has to be done. They are playing for the colleges they have just enrolled in possibly down to scholarship obligations and then travelling home via bus car or air to pull on their county jersey on a rain swept pitch trying to make a name for themselves. This must be commended. Off course they are getting expenses but I’m sure these don’t cover the tiredness and effort put in at the time.
It is hard to decide what side of the fence to be on in this debate. If you are thinking of player welfare, then they should be given the months of November and December to recover from their previous year’s exertions. The social aspect also must be looked at also. The build up to Christmas is a time to be with your family and to enjoy yourself in what way you see fit. If this is too be eating whatever you like or to be having an occasional alcoholic drink you should be fit to do so, but to be a county panellist and what some might say be a professional athlete who doesn’t get that accolade or paid for it then you have to watch every aspect of what your doing in your life and stick to a schedule a trainer and nutritionist will off given you. The flip side is if you want something really badly you will do anything needed to really achieve it and that decision rest with the person themselves.