By John Fogarty
The overload on inter-county hurlers is a growing concern for managers John Meyler and Derek McGrath.
With both men’s panels full of Fitzgibbon Cup players, each are reticent about putting more pressure on them at this stage of the season.
Meyler admits “too much” is being demanded of elite hurlers compared to his son, Ireland soccer international David, who currently plies his trade with English Championship club Hull City.
The extra matches in the Munster championship this year, he believes, will help address the lopsided training-to-match ratio but he suggests it is only the start in addressing the issue.
“The expectation levels, the training levels for the objective is too much. We maybe overtrain. It’s to get the balance but in soccer every club finishes the same week more or less, except for a FA Cup final or something like that.
“It has to come to a more strategic structure. The calendar is there and you look at our four matches in the Munster championship and two of them are in Cork, which will facilitate Cork business.
"It’s Cork businesses who are supporting Cork hurling so that will facilitate all of that. It gives players a chance to map out where they are going to be. They might have a free Sunday whereas before it wasn’t as structured.”
Meyler obviously wants to see as much of his players as he can but knows they have other commitments too as he considers the fact he has 15 Fitzgibbon Cup players in his squad.
“The likes of (Mark) Coleman and (Darragh) Fitzgibbon who played for UCC, they’re playing DCU on Wednesday and we have to assess them on Wednesday night ‘are they available for Saturday night against Kilkenny?’ And, you know, they’ll probably be out the following week in the next round of the Fitzgibbon.
“There are huge demands on the 21-year-old, 22-year-old, 23-year-old and he also has to do his exams in May. There’ll be critical just before the Munster championship. So it’s getting the balance right and not killing them.”
Waterford’s McGrath previously called for an agreement that inter-county managers release their Fitzgibbon Cup players exclusively to the colleges for February. As the Allianz League schedule now shrinks to five round games in six weeks, he sees the pressures on younger players being amplified.
“If you factor in the Fitzgibbon schedule, Sunday, Thursday, Sunday, Wednesday, you could possibly be asking some players to play four matches in the space of nine days, perhaps. Not that it depends on your approach but it is a concern.
"For me, I always think that if 1A and 1B were integrated into one league, it gives space to management in terms of your approach to the league, without downplaying the actual league.
“It gives you the chance to rest up guys and it will give you not a less serious league, but in terms of your approach, it can be based on the whole issue of player welfare. You can base your approach on the load of what your fellas have done that week in terms of college, and where they have been. And then you have to balance it.”
McGrath had three players in Fitzgibbon Cup action yesterday including Patrick Curran. “Patrick is on the cusp, he wants game time with Waterford during the league, so you have to balance being given the chance to stake your claim as to being a proper state to do it, as well.
“That is often lost in the selfishness that comes with an obsession of getting two points in the league, it is lost on myself too.
"I am guilty in that regard. Sometimes, you try and manage who is highly committed to the college as opposed to those who are there but the college is not everything to them, either. Some of them fit into that bracket as well.”
Inter-county managements are presented with the compulsion to try out new players given the demands the championship schedule will place on panels come May and June. Meyler won’t be in a position like his predecessor Kieran Kingston last year to name the same team for four consecutive SHC outings.
“Your pre-season this season has been more critical because you really have got to bank all of the energy, all of the fitness, all of that,” he says.
“You’ve really got to find players. That’s what we tried to do. The likes of Darren Browne, Tim O’Mahony, Robbie O’Flynn, Seán O’Donoghue, who were on the panel last year, who were U21 hopefully, we can bring those through this year like what happened with Coleman, Fitzgibbon, and those.
“So you’re trying to be ultra-competitive and trying to bring through new players to try and get them ready for the Munster Championship. But you’re also trying to extend the depth of the talent in your panel. That’s going to be critical.”
Meyler still has to come to an agreement with the board regarding player availability in April, which has been designated a club-fixture only month.
“We’ve started to analyse that but it will be difficult if they go to the clubs 100% but look, whatever happens, happens and we need to be ready for that.”
This article first appeared in today’s Irish Examiner.