O’Connor revealed he did not consider defender Jonathan Lyne and attacker Daithí Casey for tomorrow night’s glamour Allianz Football League against Dublin in Croke Park because they could be facing seven top level games in 16 days.
Central to the spring crux is next week’s Sigerson Cup, which could see top players tog out three times in as many days. O’Connor’s call for the Sigerson and Fitzgibon Cups to move to a pre-Christmas slot in the GAA calendar comes on the day that president Christy Cooney revealed to the Irish Examiner that he has appointed his predecessor, Nickey Brennan to head up a task force on the future for third-level competitions.
The report will be completed by early May.
Ahead of the Fitzgibbon Cup finals weekend, which begins today in Waterford IT, and next week’s Sigerson Cup finals being hosted by UCD, there remains considerable disquiet at the demands being placed on elite young players attempting to juggle inter-county and third-level commitments every spring.
Cooney insisted the priority of the committee is get the balance of games and training right for players and admitted all moves will be considered — including the drastic option of scrapping the competitions altogether.
“There are a lot of views being expressed that we should be playing the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups in October and November. That’s all going to be reviewed quite soon.
“The priority is to get the balance right. Sometimes you do have to look at the option of some competitions having seen their life span as well. We need to be conscious that we can’t keep adding more and more.”
Kerry coach O’Connor, who yesterday named Bryan Sheehan at midfield in his team to face the Dubs, admitted that he was forced into omitting Jonathan Lyne of Legion and Dr Crokes Daithí Casey from his selection because of burn-out fears.
“Jonathan was looking at his fourth top level game in nine days, and remember the provincial Under 21 championships are kicking in now too, so those managers will also be looking to get their troops in order.”
Added O’Connor: “The training ban is supposed to be protecting these players, but if the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon were slotted into November and the start of December, those players would then have a proper break into January to recharge them for the new year.
“We are putting our future stars under ferocious pressure and it is one of the reasons that star minors are not coming through into the county Under 21 set up. That’s a certainty.”
O’Connor cited the example of young Kerry forward Barry John Keane last year, who the Kerry coach believes, was “burned out by July.”
“The present system is putting a huge burden on players over a very concentrated period. There needs to be more joined up thinking between GAA and college authorities.”
However GAA president Christy Coney says Croke Park is already keenly aware of the problem — and the potential issues for the future.
“We’ve a committee in place to put forward a strategy for the third-level games and where they should go in the future. Nickey Brennan is chairing it for me. That’s going through a debate at the moment with the third-level colleges.
“They’re looking at the whole colleges scene, where we want the colleges to be in five years, what type of structures we will need to put in place, the competitions that we need to run. It’s not just about the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon, it’s also about giving games to the average player in third-level colleges.”
Agreeing with O’Connor, Mr Cooney said a key element of the taskforce’s briefing is to attempt to alleviate the prospects of burnout amongst young stars.
“We’ll see around early May where we’re going with the third-level competitions and how that will be structured. Also we’ll be looking at the whole training scenario around third-level.
“Our medical workgroup came out recently and were quite concerned about the number of training sessions against matches being done by young players. We have to be conscious at all times of the needs of our players, how we can support them, keep them well and not have them burnt out. That’s crucially important.
“In all this process we cannot ignore the club competitions. It’s a big challenge but we are working on it and I believe we are making improvements.”