Nine out of 10 GAA players binge drink during off season

One in four players chose a career that would facilitate them to play senior intercounty

One in four players reported choosing a career path after second-level education that would facilitate them to play senior intercounty. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

One in four players reported choosing a career path after second-level education that would facilitate them to play senior intercounty. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Nearly nine out of 10 GAA players are binge drinking during the off-season, and are also showing substantial variation across the season, with three out of four senior intercounty players engage in “potentially hazardous drinking” during pre-season.

One in four GAA players are also choosing a career path after second-level education that would best facilitate them playing the senior intercounty game, and 40 per cent of them are also admitting they would not choose the same path again.

Already anecdotally suggested or otherwise, these are some of the main findings of the latest research carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI) into the lives of senior intercounty players.

The 196 page report, entitled ‘Safeguarding amateur athletes: an examination of player welfare among senior inter-county Gaelic players’ is another formidable collection of information intended to act as a benchmark for the GAA going into the future.

It’s also a follow-up report to last year’s initial research – Playing Senior Inter-County Games: Experiences, Realities and Consequences, published in September 2018 – which key findings included the scale of the commitment involved, with players spending up to 31 hours per week on their team involvement.

Experiences

It’s also based on the same date obtained from workshops and a questionnaire circulated to 1,947 senior county players in 2017, (with 1,037 responses) and based on their experiences of the 2016 season: if anything, the report suggests, “The intensity and depth of players’ commitments to the inter-county game may have increased since these data were gathered in 2016, and this should be borne in mind when considering this finding, and also the other findings that have emerged from the study”. 

While the report finds that GAA players are highly educated (61 per cent having at least a university degree compared to 35 per cent of the general male population of the same age), players are basing many decisions related to their education and their professional career around playing Gaelic games. 

Commissioned by the GAA and the Gaelic Players Association (GPA), the report also examines a range of other issues relevant to players’ lives, including alcohol consumption, supplement use, their views on player welfare supports and their experiences within the intercounty set-up.

“The first report was quite broad in terms of time commitment, while this is taking a more micro-analysis view, and looking a little deeper at the choices made around education, their career, and then alcohol use, and also supplement use, which is still quite a new area,” said Elish Kelly, Senior Research Officer with the ESRI, who carried out the research along with Conor Keegan and Brendan Walsh.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say there is one has priority over the other, because they are all separate components, and the first component is who GAA commitments influence education, career and then the other aspects of senior intercounty players’ lives.”

Education was by far the most popular third-level field of study among inter-county players: 26 per cent pursued this course compared to only four per cent of males of similar age in the general population. They are also under-represented in the maths and sciences, and that can only impact on future earnings.

Being able to play intercounty was a slightly bigger influencing factor on the post-second level education career decisions of Division 1 footballers (32 per cent) and MacCarthy Cup hurlers (34 per cent). Just over 41 per cent of players indicated that they would not select the same post second-level career pathway again.

Players also identified two key areas where they would like to receive more support; in their “professional career” and “how to keep their intercounty participation in perspective”.

Enjoyment

Players also specified the issues they would most like to change about their intercounty experience would be a reduction in the length of the playing season, fewer time commitments and the reintroduction of enjoyment into the games.

The majority of the issues that players would change about the intercounty set-up are under the remit of either the intercounty management team or the players’ county boards.

“Unless the underlying drivers that are giving rise to the current intercounty commitment levels are identified and addressed, the knock-on effects identified in this study are likely to be amplified among future generations of players,” added Kelly.

“One of the main benefits of the current research is that players themselves have identified changes that could be made to assist with addressing some of these effects.”

The research also revealed that perceptions of teammates’ engagement in illicit drug use appear low. Nevertheless, players believe that almost a fifth of their teammates engage in this risky behaviour on a monthly basis.

“The report also underlines the need for a robust range of player development supports from the GPA,” said Paul Flynn, Gaelic Players Association CEO. “It shows us there is a growing need for more education and information for players about their roles and responsibilities as intercounty players, particularly around supplement usage and alcohol consumption.”

Key findings

* One in four players reported choosing a career path after second-level education that would facilitate them to play senior intercounty. 

* Over 40 per cent of players would not select the same post second-level career path again. This figure was over 50 per cent among players who selected their post second-level education pathway because it allowed them to play intercounty. 

* Over 80 per cent of players reported difficulty balancing the demands of studying and playing during their education course; 16 per cent either dropped out of a course or had to repeat a year; and 80 per cent missed college lectures/classes/labs. 

* Some players select sectors of employment with fewer working hours (e.g. education). 

* Working fewer hours, and experiencing lower promotion prospects because of inter-county commitments, may be affecting players’ earnings. 

* Nearly nine-out-of-ten players reported binge-drinking during the off-season. 

* Almost nine-out-of-ten players consume supplements and are recommended to do so by teams. 

* Players reported inequalities with regards to Player Charter and County-Board supports. In particular, lower-tier counties appear to be bearing the brunt of these issues, such as the timing of when expenses are paid.

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