IN ALL FAIRNESS - Less is More!

There isn’t much love for the National League in football among the top teams, but you wouldn’t know it last weekend.

Every year, we hear a lot of managers trying to downplay things, particularly after a win, as it is all about the championship, we are told. If that is the case, then loses shouldn’t be taken too seriously either, particularly if counties are on different courses in terms when they aim to peak, be it for the league or championship.

The pressure certainly ramped up for a number of managers last weekend in the wake of defeats, including Roscommon’s Davy Burke following their loss to Dublin. One of the reasons for the seven point defeat was the lack of cohesion in their play due to the fact he hasn’t had access to his full panel until recently, largely due to St Bridget’s reaching the All-Ireland Club final, while a number of players were also involved deep into the Sigerson Cup with their respective colleges, including Darragh Cregg who was outstanding in UCD’s loss to Ulster University in the final last week.

In the course of his post-match comments, Burke revealed that Roscommon have trained collectively 65 times prior to Saturday night and were due to meet up again on Sunday morning, where the players who featured against Dublin would continue their recovery ahead of next weekends key game with Monaghan, while the rest of the panel would be put through their paces so as not to be left behind physically.

Official inter-county training began on November 24th last which is 86 days up to last Saturday night, so on 65 of those days, Roscommon were doing some element of preparation, if they didn’t go back earlier which is likely. Now it might not have been all on the pitch, but that level of demands of time is what you would expect from a professional who gets paid for their time whereas the GAA players, bar the few travel expenses, it is for the love of the game.

Roscommon are not the only team doing this level of preparation as it is widely known that Donegal and Galway were back in training, also well before the scheduled start, with one player in Galway missing a key club championship game due to picking up an injury in training, at a time when he should have been completely focused on his club.

The amount of training in the GAA at inter-county level is crazy, and one wonders who is going to shout stop. The train is coming quickly down the road where a County Board is going to get into financial trouble as the demands rise and rise, and they’ll simply run out of avenues with which to fund inter-county teams, and you may well see counties start to pull teams out of senior competitions.

Not only is it a funding issue, but it is also the control these managers have over players, and the perceived lack of trust they have in them that they need to be working with them almost every second day. The demands on inter-county managers are massive, we hear constantly, with the hours they put in, but I don’t see many cutting back. They do put in more hours than they players as they have to be at training long before and leave long after when the review the session and plan the next one.

However, without players we have no game and the more and more that is asked of players at senior inter-county level, fewer and fewer will give the commitment, and in that case the game will suffer. One wonders even as it is, how many quality hurlers and footballers there are around the country, that we are not seeing play for the counties at what is the elite level of the game, purely because they couldn’t give the commitment required.

The GAA has got to address this sooner rather than later, and it is one aspect I would hope incoming GAA President Jarlath Burns takes as a priority when he assumes his role at Congress this weekend. He was a great player in his day for Armagh and through his son, Jarlath Og, who is on their senior panel currently, he should see at close hand the demands on his sons time and whether the commitment is worth it.

No player currently playing inter-county hurling and football is there under duress, they want to be there, but the concern is that their careers at the highest level will be shortened as their hunger will diminish year on year if they don’t have an escape away from the demands of the inter-county game. They want to be there, but they don’t want to be there all the time. There is a common phrase of ‘Less is more’ and it is something that the GAA would want to heed pretty quickly before it is too late.