CLARE boss Davy Fitzgerald has set training limits for his players in a bid to keep them fresh.
Fitzgerald who is without Cian Dillon, Nicky O’Connell, Brian O’Connell, Conor McGrath and Darach Honan for Sunday’s Allianz League opener against Waterford, is acutely aware of the demands being placed on GAA stars, especially those attending third level.
The two time All-Ireland winner explained: “We have a policy with the Clare senior team, you would train X amount of days a week and that’s it, no matter what the story is. If they play a college game they’ve to miss Clare training; if they play with their club U21s — which is going to cause us a great deal of difficulty over the next couple of weeks with the Clare club championship going on — they’ll miss a game.
“You have X amount of days to do and that’s what you’re going to do. We’re not going to allow college teams to train them and then they train with us the following night, because it’s counter-productive. What we said this year, if your college has a challenge game or it has a Fitzgibbon Cup game then you play that game and we’ll try and judge you on those games. I think that’s a fair enough system, even though I know some of the colleges managers weren’t happy.”
Burnout and over-training of players has become one of the major bugbears of the GAA in recent years and this decision then by one of the highest-profile managers around to very deliberately control and cut down on training sessions for the most vulnerable players is welcome.
Fitzgerald reasoned: “I just think they lose their appetite if they’re asked to do too much. Some guys (other managers) don’t care; maybe as I’ve matured as a person or as a manager over the last few years it’s something I feel we had to address.
“As county managers, we’re asking them to do a lot. I think it’s important — and I’ve discussed it with my sports scientist — that we just watch their loads and what they’re doing. Having talked to some of the lads and explained why we’re doing what we’re doing, they totally understand it and love the idea of being on the field seven days a week.”
Making all this even more significant, Davy Fitzgerald still manages a Fitzgibbon Cup team, LIT, and in fact cut his teeth in that competition, winning several titles for a college that had previously struggled to make any impact. He thus understands the problem from a number of viewpoints but, he reckons, a forward-thinking manager can still have his players together, can still prepare them for an upcoming game, but without the need to flog them.
“If you’re over a Fitzgibbon team you want all your team training three or four days a week or whatever, you feel you’re not going to get the best out of them unless they’re training. In LIT we’ve been in training eight weekends out of 10 but we would have met and done things apart from training. We’d have gone away and done an amount of team-building rather than being in the field. I often had 10 or 11 players on county panels, why would I be trying to flog them again? They’re being trained at a high level as it is.”
And of course there is also the pressure of life, especially on students nowadays. “One of our players was stuck in a book on the way down to the league semi-final last year — I shouldn’t have played him. His head definitely wasn’t in it. He was studying all hours and the more I thought of it I realised he was thinking about his livelihood and that is so important. I was putting more pressure on him by playing this game. Maybe I should have realised that and gave him a breather. We have to take that into account too, we have to appreciate things like that and what lads are doing outside of training. You have to have an appetite, a bite, if you are lacking in any bit of them I can promise you it’s going to show on the team and they won’t perform as a unit.”
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