Inter-county players, they’re either schoolteachers or studying to become school teachers. Or just studying full-stop.
It’s a widely held perception with many believing that the life of a student is all toast and nap breaks and long summers off for Gaelic games.
The reality of course, as outlined in the Gaelic Players Association’s Student Report 2019, is altogether different, closer to the actual title of the report ‘A Juggling Act’.
According to the report, over half of student inter-county players ‘regularly feel overwhelmed by their commitments’. A third 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’ while 69 per cent ‘would like more time to devote to their studies’.
Similar to last year’s ESRI report - jointly commissioned by the GPA and containing a headline figure that county players spend up to 31 hours a week preparing for games - it’s another important piece of literature to help inform 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.
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 inter-county 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 inter-county 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.”
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 say, ‘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.”
Flynn also referenced the decision not to have a separate All-Stars, or ‘Champion 15’ selection for hurling’s second tier Joe McDonagh Cup this year.
Separate ‘Champion 15’ teams were selected in 2018 for the Joe McDonagh and Christy Ring competitions and a combined Nickey Rackard/Lory Meagher selection.
This year, the Joe McDonagh players were included in the overall All-Stars scheme - Laois had two nominees but no players were selected - while an overall Ring/Rackard/Meagher Champion 15 team was announced last weekend.
“We did discuss this with the players, it wasn’t as if we just made this call,” said Flynn of the decision to get rid of the McDonagh Champion 15. “We’ll go back to them again.”