GAA student players feel overwhelmed by commitments

GPA report not even half ‘felt confident to talk to county manager about reduced training load’

GPA  chief executive Paul Flynn says it’s vital that managers are aware of the tolls being placed on their student players. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

GPA chief executive Paul Flynn says it’s vital that managers are aware of the tolls being placed on their student players. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

To maximise your potential as an intercounty GAA player, stay in college for as long as you can. It’s advice that most talented young players have received at some stage, with former Waterford hurling manager Derek McGrath noting during the summer how so many of hurling’s current top players have attended third-level institutions.

The thing is, while long summers off are the obvious perk, it’s also a juggling act of sorts that not all players are capable of pulling off.

According to the Gaelic Players Association’s Student Report 2019, more than half of student intercounty players “regularly feel overwhelmed by their commitments”. A third have had to repeat a college exam at some stage and almost two-thirds “feel their training load negatively affects their academic performance”.

Worryingly, not even half “felt confident to talk to their county manager about a reduced training load”.

Similar to last year’s ESRI report – jointly commissioned by the GAA and containing a headline figure that county players spend up to 31 hours a week preparing for games – it’s another important document to help navigate the best way forward.

“This is reality, my role and our job is to close the gap between the perception that’s out there and the actual reality of the player,” said GPA chief executive Paul Flynn.

“It’s reports like this from my point of view that bring it to life. Yes, it’s facts and figures but it’s the reality of the intercounty experience right now.”

At the launch of the GPA’s report, Tyrone footballer Conor Meyler spoke of his experiences completing a Masters Degree in Education in Dublin this year while attempting to answer his county’s call. At one stage, he considered dropping the Masters.

“At the start of the year, I really had to prioritise my academics but overall you’re asking yourself and having that conversation, ‘Is this Masters worth it? It’s not doing me any favours here. I’m wrecked all the time, I’m spending ridiculous hours in the library, getting up really early or staying really late’,” said Meyler.

A day of college and intercounty training meant leaving Dublin at around 4 o’clock and not returning until well past midnight.

“Days that were assigned for my reading, I ended up having to work on to finance my Masters so there is definitely aspects of being an intercounty footballer that make academic life tougher,” said Meyler.

“Being a student is tough because the expectations are getting higher and being an inter-county footballer is tough because the expectations are getting higher. If you’re juggling the two, then there’s going to be times when you’re really going to struggle.”

Three recommendations

For Flynn, it’s vital that managers are aware of the tolls being placed on their student players; mental, physical, financial and otherwise.

“There needs to be an education for inter-county managers around the experience of these guys,” said the former Dublin forward. “Because these are the exact guys who aren’t going to go to the county manager and saying, ‘I’ve a 2,000-word assignment due tomorrow’ or ‘I’ve an exam worth 50 per cent of my final year tomorrow’.”

The GPA is represented on the Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force which is due to deliver its report shortly. Part of its remit has been to examine the timing of higher education competitions.

“We are very happy with that group,” said Flynn. “One of the first things I said in my first session as the new GPA CEO was that everyone needs to get into a room, and it’s happening.”

The committee, set up by GAA president John Horan earlier this year, is expected to make various proposals regarding championship reform.

“I am excited,” said Flynn of the impending report. “They are hoping to make recommendations later this month so they are getting closer to a final solution, or recommendations. I believe there is going to be three recommendations. But again, I just hope with the recommendations that come out of it that we lean towards the more radical or progressive potential structures rather than being more conservative.”

Asked if the committee is likely to suggest axing the provincial football championships, Flynn said he didn’t believe so.

“I don’t actually know because I am not in the room with them but I don’t believe so,” he said. “I think there could be a shift in it, where it is positioned and when it is positioned and things like that.”

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