John Allen: Price of preparation outweighs rewards for most

Only elite reap full rewards of work put in to perform at highest level of hurling

The Young Scientists' Exhibition was in the news in mid January on the same week that former Tipperary physiotherapist John Casey threw out a question that wouldn't have been out of place in the RDS. He asked if the the modern day intercounty player is paying a price that's too high to compete in the GAA arena?

Is the price too high? Discuss, research, hypothesise and draw conclusions. Well it certainly is higher than it was a decade ago and it has grown almost exponentially over the past half century. The level of preparation is increasing every season.

How high is too high? It was interesting to read an interview with Longford football manager Denis Connerton on the same week in which he said that around 40 per cent of the players he approached about playing with Longford refused. Price too high perhaps?A week later the same county dispatched All-Ireland champions Dublin out of the O'Byrne Cup. I digress.

Anyway I wonder are the figures similar for many other counties? Anecdotally it seems that they are. If the county team was a business and run on business lines where results (sales) are everything then the majority of counties playing hurling and football would be gone to the wall long ago.


Meaningful games

If one was to use the analogy of a weighing scales it would be fairly well heavily weighed on one side. Preparation certainly outweighs the number of meaningful games and success is the reward of a minute number of counties in both hurling and football. But still the attraction of playing GAA games at the highest level, like the moon and the tides, has a pull that is hard to define and rationalise.

Why does the intercounty player make so many sacrifices? Is it for the honour and bit of glory in playing for the county team. There’s the gear and the meals and the one or two big days when championship time is with us. There’s the chance of getting a draw in the qualifiers against a “big dog/fish” and sometimes the unbelievable happens and the underdog/fish defies all the odds and wins.

But, all in all, the return for the effort and time nowadays devoted to play at the highest level is completely out of balance.

It is definitely professional in terms of preparation. This preparation for the game of hurling has undergone much change in the past decade. Strength and conditioning work, stretching, recovery sessions, pre-match tactical planning, post-match analysis and stats have now become an integral part of the hurlers’ lot.

Diet, hydration and nutrition is attended to in minute detail. And all of this before a sliotar is pucked. It has certainly become a lifestyle choice to play intercounty hurling. The player makes his mind up to commit and has to be prepared to pay the extreme price. It’s difficult to understand.

But of course there’s a very wholesome side to all of this as well. There’s a personal development that happens that the player carries for life. There’s a code of discipline both on and off the field that helps to create leaders in life. There’s an honesty fostered that is so important in life. There’s a strength of character being developed that can’t be bought or taught.

The altruistic side of the player's character is also continuing developing as to the importance of being a team player because it is (or should be) always about the team. And of course there's the lessons that come with both winning and losing and particularly the latter. Learning to accept, rationalise and deal with loss has a huge importance and significance in later life. Winning graciously is a model we've always seen from the great Kilkenny hurling team.

In hurling at the highest level the winner takes it all and deservedly so and in doing that they are setting the standard for the others to aim for. For those others, the striving to be the best brings out so much that is wholesome, decent and honourable.

If one is to weigh up the price paid in terms of medals and trophies won then the price is far too high as far as most counties are concerned but the player development is an important by-product.

But is the price too high? Dublin and Kilkenny hurlers have been paying the price and have put their lives on hold for Saturday night. For the players from the capital city it is a fairly defining five days. Their game against Kilkenny (and their under 21 game against Westmeath on Wednesday night next ) will give them and us an indication as to whether they are in the contenders subset this year.

There's talk that, maybe, Kilkenny's dominance is coming to an end. How often have we heard that before? Their league campaign ended in a capitulation, of sorts, against Clare. Richie Hogan's absence is significant. But this is Kilkenny under Brian Cody and we would be foolish to think that the players who will line out on Saturday night won't have that ferocious will to win that Cody demands from all his teams.

Certain confidence

Dublin have the advantage of having had a game already. It’s hard to draw conclusions about them from that encounter given Wexford’s poor performance. But there has to be a certain confidence in the camp given that victory and the victory of their under-21 team against the same county last week.

But followers are fickle and most are not too keen on waiting for success. A decade ago this contest would have been viewed as a David and Goliath of sorts. Not any more though.

Dublin, now paying the high price, have to have a reasonable chance of winning but probably won’t.