Former Tipperary star Johnny Leahy has warned of the growth of an unhealthy addiction to fitness in top level Gaelic games, writes John Fogarty.
As part of an interview which will feature in tomorrow’s Irish Examiner, the addiction counsellor fears that an obsession with the gym has taken over elite football and hurling.
While he recognises alcohol and gambling are primary addictions, he senses there is a lack of balance in players’ lives which manifests itself in another way.
“The drinking culture that exists in the GAA, the gambling that is going on, they’re kind of releases for these young people now and some are getting caught in it.
“People can have all the supports but it’s a tough life being a GAA inter-county player today because I believe you can’t have a life outside it.
“When I came home on a Tuesday, Thursday, or weekend training I was able to throw my bag in the corner and had a life after it whereas now these guys can’t.
“They have to hydrate, go to the gym, stretching, recovery sessions. It’s constant.
“When they do get a bit of free time and they’re out there, it’s hard going. You haven’t a life outside of it. You choose that but it’s harder and how do we ever really correct that? I don’t know. The whole fitness side of things is so professional. I see guys togged out and they’re ripped. They’re in some nick, their strength is there but, on the other side of it, you need a life, you need balance. You cannot be obsessed with any one thing and I think now there has even become an addiction to being fit.
“That would be a worry because that will only last so long and the body gets tired of it. In my early years with Tipperary, fellas would go for a pint or two before the first round of Munster, the Munster final and the All-Ireland final and there was nothing thought of it. Now there are too many demands on them. It’s so challenging to live up to that.”
When he sees what current stars have to endure, Leahy is pleased to have played inter-county hurling when he did.
“There is extra pressure. I feel sorry for lads playing today because in our time we hadn’t the social media or the amount of media coverage as there is today. Playing inter-county is a pressure in itself and you’re up there to be knocked.
“Would I like to hurl in this day and age? I don’t know because you have to be a professionally-minded athlete to play any elite sport today and that relates to club as well. I know supporters mean well but when you’re out you’re in the public domain. Tipperary supporters, they’re passionate about their hurling.
“I won’t say they feel they own a part of you but they are part of you and you’re a part of them and it’s important that you know that. They want your time.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.