GAA wrong to ban winter training, says fitness guru

ONE of the country’s leading strength and conditioning experts believes that the GAA is “missing the point” by banning collective training in November and December to address issues of burnout.

Mike McGurn has worked with the Irish rugby team and former world champion boxer Bernard Dunne, as well as a host of top rugby league and union sides in Britain. He has recently been brought on board to provide the entire county set-up in Armagh with a template for physical preparation.

The Belfast-based consultant is adamant that the GAA is actually creating a situation whereby the National League cannot be taken seriously by teams due to the absence of a proper pre-season.

Indeed he warns that rather than reducing the number of injuries, the current situation will lead to an increase in players breaking down.

“It’s similar to the situation I had with the IRFU back in 2002” he explains. “We were trying to operate Magners League, Heineken Cup and international rugby on a three-week pre-season. I was critical of it and I got suspended. I don’t regret it because it led to us getting a 12-week pre-season and we haven’t looked back since.

“Putting these boys out to battle with McKenna Cup in Ulster, National League and championship from January to September is nine months, on a very limited pre-season.

“So if you want to keep the guys healthy and on the pitch you need to increase pre-season training time. Your pre-season is time where you keep the players strong, fit and healthy and prevent them getting injured. The more money you put in the bank in pre-season, the more you take out during the season.”

McGurn maintains that teams targeting All-Ireland glory will probably need to lay the groundwork between December and February and give up on a good start in the league.

Another reason why the ban on collective training is not desirable, according to the Enniskillen native, is that it encourages overuse of gyms.

“I’m not a big believer of giving a fella sessions and saying, ‘go do that there’. As a fitness coach you want intensity and the safety aspect of it but also technique. Giving guys programmes can be more dangerous than helpful. I don’t think you get the same response.

“You want to be working with him, fire him up, get him going. I think what’s going to happen if teams start to target the third week in September (is) you’ll find them forgoing league competitions and FBD, McKenna Cup, whatever else is going on in January/February. It might dilute those competitions a wee bit but you’ve got to rob Peter to pay Paul.”

The bottom line though, says McGurn, is that burnout is down to bad practices in terms of training and the actual management of players.

“I think they’re missing the point here. They’re on about player burnout. If you train for two hours you’re going to get burned out. My training sessions take 45 minutes maximum. You get in, you rip the place apart and get out again.

“If you’re doing two 45-minute sessions a week you won’t burn out ever. It’s when you bring them in and do the laps and do two and half hours, which is happening, you burn out.

“Teams have got to talk. If you’ve got a player who is playing colleges, club and county, coaches should get around a say, ‘you’re the player, what’s best for you? You have him for an hour on a Tuesday, we’ll take him for half on hour on a Thursday and he plays for his club on Sunday. But people don’t talk. If you don’t talk you don’t know so the player gets caught in the middle.

“It’s very similar to what we have when you had provincial players playing for Munster and Ireland. We went around to the provinces (and asked them) ‘how long is the training for? When do you need him by?’ “Come to an agreement and put the player in the middle. It’s got to be athlete-centred, it can’t be club-centred or county-centred.”

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