Time to open minds over the close season for collective training
Next week sees the first inter-county teams return to collective training, as the GAA’s new close season regulations come into effect. Whereas previously no collective training could take place in November or December, the down period has now been staggered according to when counties exited the championship.
This means that on a rolling basis from next Thursday week, when 12 football and hurling counties are allowed return to the training fields, until the end of December when the four All-Ireland finalists are allowed resume, preparation for the 2013 season will get under way. All activity also shuts down from 21st to 28th December
For one prominent former intercounty manager, Jason Ryan who in 2008 led Wexford footballers to a first All-Ireland semi-final in over 60 years and who stepped down this summer, the restrictions are still too general and dismissive of the increasingly high levels of expertise to be found amongst intercounty coaches.
“The model I’d rather is none,” he said when asked was the new arrangement an improvement. “Teams should simply go back when they should go back. I’m not a believer in burnout, just in stupid training. The quality of what players are asked to do is the most important part of this.
“Every county is different. So much of the concern here revolves around Fitzgibbon and Sigerson but some counties have a lot of students on the panel and others don’t. It’s the same with clubs. Some are involved in provincial championships in November and December but others aren’t.”
He accepts that one of the core problems for Gaelic games is the number of teams for which young players are eligible to play. Although he takes issue with the close season, he believes that one of the other recommendations of the GAA’s Burn-Out work group – restrictions on under-21s playing senior – should be implemented.
“I’d reduce under-21 to under-20 and not allow anyone in the age group play for the seniors. I know people say this militates against the weaker counties but that age group have enough going on with the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon and it gives an opportunity for more players to get involved.
“Balancing under-age and senior is tough because it’s tough to say ‘no’ to teams. You need someone in a position to direct players, someone trained in physical preparation so that when you’re periodising the season you can take into account what players have done.
“When I was in London I taught kids who were in the Chelsea Academy and they were under no illusions about what they had to do but they were only allowed play a certain number of games every year. They had to keep a diary and that was it.
“But GAA players aren’t ‘owned’ by anyone and if they want to play for club, university or county that’s what they do. They’ve no contracts.”
Ryan also believes that to take care of player welfare adequately requires a high level of expertise and data collection and that ironically at present such levels are to be found more within the inter-county game, which is being restricted.
“When I took over in Wexford it would have been marvellous to have been told about the players, ‘this is their workload’ and ‘this is how they’ve developed over a period of time’ but that sort of data doesn’t exist. I like American sport and the way they break everything down according to statistics.
“I think there are a lot of highly-qualified coaches with academic credentials and professional knowledge: people like Cian O’Neill, Jerry Fitzpatrick, Pat Flanagan and Niall Moyna. Are we saying that they don’t know the optimum physical demands that can be placed on players?
“If we are going to put people in charge of making decisions on what is the appropriate workload for players they have to have those sort of qualifications.”