Long-standing entries into the GAA vernacular but irritating and, let’s be honest, inaccurate too.
While it was encouraging to see Gaelic inter-county players stand up for themselves in the wake of Stephen Hunt’s comments, they just aren’t professional. Let us rephrase that — they aren’t just professional.
They’re much more.
Never mind the money — Gaelic players don’t rest enough to be considered pros. A lot of them don’t know what to do with their down-time because they have so little of it. One need only look at how cabin fever arrested the International Rules team in Australia last month. Cooped up for nine days prior to one test, the boredom took hold of them.
They also make too many sacrifices. That’s what was lost in that whole Hunt debate: while top Gaelic players’ loved ones lose out because of their selfishness barely any of a pro’s nearest and dearest suffer as a result of their self-interest. In fact, most of them gain because of it.
Socialising, namely with the assistance of alcohol, remains a thorny subject for inter-county players. After beating a Victorian Football League side in Melbourne, the Irish players were allowed to enjoy a night out. Six days out from a game, it would have been unheard of in a regular season game here. In professional sport, it would have been only encouraged.
Brian O’Driscoll’s “The Test” gives great insight into elite level rugby’s attitude to booze.
Prior to the Lions’ final test against Australia last year for which he was dropped, he declined to join in a sanctioned drinking session. “We’ve got Monday and Tuesday off. We’re not training until the Wednesday and a fair few of the lads head out on the beer. I’m tempted. The 2001 me would be in the thick of it, but the 2013 version worries about alcohol even six days before a game. So I go and get myself an ice cream instead and walk past the bar where the lads are ensconced.”
One man who has appreciation of both top level Gaelic games and rugby is former Ireland strength and conditioning coach Mike McGurn, recently appointed physical trainer to the Antrim footballers.
He recently told The Irish News that the GAA’s culture of uber self-denial has to stop. “There has to be a balance. There is too much made of this abstinence and this priest-like existence. There has to be balance because you’ve only one life. You hear of teams going off the drink for Championship... when I worked in Rugby League and Rugby Union, the boys worked their balls off but they enjoyed themselves too.
“There is too much abstinence in the GAA compared to other sports — and I’m not just talking about drink. I’m talking about nights out and going to restaurants and going on a holiday. Paul O’Connell wouldn’t have survived until 35 without having time off.”
Clare hurlers were one of those teams who avoided alcohol for almost the duration of last year’s Championship. Some of them only drank for the first time since St Patrick’s Day on the night of the drawn All-Ireland final with Cork. It didn’t win them an All-Ireland title but some may see that the drinking ban created a pact and a bond.
But what isn’t as widely reported are the stories of how multi All-Ireland winners both in the recent past and now would take themselves to Dublin away from prying eyes to indulge in a few drinks during Championship.
But why should they have to be so discreet? Those managers who enforce such penal regulations will argue Gaelic players don’t get enough time to rest so something else must compensate, and that’s alcohol. Of course, not every player drinks but anything is better than the situation we have now in the pre-Christmas rush to binge. Another player, who is on record as saying he hates the vomit-inducing workloads of January, told this column he can’t wait until next month’s slog after overindulging the past couple of months.
Some counties are already hard at it, like Armagh where two Crossmaglen players have already quit because of the pre-season demands placed on them, which reportedly comprises three early morning training sessions and four evening ones per week, not to mention more activity at the weekend. It’s a new take on that famous GAA phrase “everything in moderation, including moderation”.
Armagh’s case is the other extremity but then the inter-county game has for some time now been one of polar opposites. Purge and binge, starve and feast. One vicious circle. This generation of footballers and hurlers may be the most talented ever but they are also the most intelligent yet so few managers consider them so. If they can’t be trusted to enjoy themselves sensibly, provide themselves with the release valve of a beer or two here and there during the season then the inter-county game is going slightly mad. It’s certainly not professional anyway.
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Numbers appear to be growing against the idea of condensing the entire GAA season into the calendar year, but GAA director general Páraic Duffy’s call for All-Ireland replays to come six days after the drawn game should be met with widespread applause.
That the last three senior hurling finals have had to be decided over 140 minutes is something of a freak run especially in such a high-scoring game.
But the reality is three weeks is far too long of a break between games and the narrative is lost bridging over the football final.
The most important aspect of such a move would be the assistance it would provide to clubs of the competing counties. But for the 20 days between this year’s matches, Tipperary may have had representation in the intermediate hurling championship. The inter-county scene takes up enough time already without putting club hurlers on hold until October.
Bob Ryan’s parting shot as Cork chairman was at those who criticised the senior footballers this year after defeats to Kerry and Mayo. Some may say the county board didn’t help matters by supporting the idea of more dual players this last season but Ryan has directed a light on the rancour that manager Brian Cuthbert has had to contend with in recent months.
Ryan may also have been pre-empting what will almost certainly be a tough 2015 spring for the Bishopstown man. With four away trips in Division 1 to Ulster and the onerous job of forming a new midfield now that Aidan Walsh is gone, it will be challenging. Patience will be required, but will it be granted?