All-Star Conor McManus expects to have hip replacement
GAA/GPA commission ESRI to carry out study on demands on intercounty players
Monaghan footballer Conor McManus at the launch of the ESRI study to determine demands on senior intercounty players. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
He’s not quite in the same boat as Cork’s Derek Kavanagh, whose hip was replaced at just 32, but that same operation is coming down the line for Conor McManus at some stage.
Performing at the top level of Gaelic football as Monaghan’s talisman since his student days, as well as thriving on the club scene with Clontibret, has clearly taken its toll.
“They reckon that playing football at a higher level triggers it more so than if you weren’t,” acknowledged the Farney forward and captain, who will inevitably contribute to a study jointly commissioned by the GAA and GPA to determine the demands being placed on senior intercounty players.
The Economic and Social Research Institute will conduct the study throughout 2017 with a view to presenting a final report in December.
At the end of it, the GAA and GPA hope to possess a template for the modern intercounty player and, perhaps more importantly, guidelines to help elite players achieve a better “balance between their playing, personal and professional lives”.
Information is to be provided by players in confidence and, of course, will vary wildly from county to county.
The Dublin players, and two-time All-Star McManus too, can point to their silverware collection and argue that perhaps even a hip replacement is worth it.
For the vast majority who typically finish each season empty-handed though, the findings of the report may serve as a stark reminder of what they’re giving up, probably between 20-30 hours each week all told.
The term “indentured slaves” has been bandied about to describe this cohort of players, though McManus balked at the notion that football, for him at least, is anything less than a fun experience.
“There’s nobody throughout the country being forced to do it; it’s your own choice,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned you don’t do it unless you’re enjoying it so it’s not a burden, it’s an honour for any player to pull on his county jersey as far as I’m concerned.”
His hip may disagree, painfully so at times.
“It’s probably something that was there and maybe the full extent of it wasn’t known when I was younger, so I was not having the right training methods and things like that when I was 17, 18, 19; that probably brought it on a wee bit more, but at least now I can manage it and it’s under control, as best it can be,” he said.
Former Cork midfielder Kavanagh spoke passionately at Monday’s launch of the Club Players Association of how flogging himself for club and county led him to the surgeon’s table in his early 30s. McManus shrugged and admitted he’ll have to make the same journey himself.
Down the line
McManus would be able to console himself in later years if he was part of an All-Ireland winning Monaghan team. It remains the county’s ultimate target following Ulster title wins in 2013 and 2015, though the plans took a hit last year with defeat to Longford in the qualifiers.
“I think that has brought us right back to square one,” suggested McManus. “We really just have to focus on working hard and getting results. I said it before, when you’re coming out of Ulster you can’t afford to look at All-Ireland quarter-finals or semi-finals because it’s so difficult to get out of Ulster. And I think if last year taught us anything, it’s that it is so hard to get back to Croke Park in August.”
McManus happens to be a club mate of Declan Brennan, the founder and secretary of the CPA, who used the language of militancy at Monday’s launch, talking about organising as if it was a “political assassination” they were about to carry out. McManus isn’t convinced it will come to strike action or anything like that to solve the club fixtures crisis.
“I don’t know if they’ll have to get overly radical,” said McManus. “I think everyone is aware that there are issues with the fixtures and that’s why this [ESRI study] is being carried out, to look into players’ welfare and to try to get a common ground. I’m assuming everybody is in the same boat in terms of getting a solution to it all so the CPA can only help that along.”