Medics push for rugby-style pre-season

THE GAA’s much-maligned collective inter-county winter training ban could soon be replaced by an enforced pre-season.

The alternative is currently being discussed by the GAA’s medical and welfare committee and the Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA).

The initiative would see players undertake strength and conditioning programmes instead of gym work, which they are currently restricted to in November and December by the winter ban rule.

Committee member Dr Pat Duggan revealed they are looking at replicating the model devised by former IRFU national fitness director Liam Hennessy for Ireland’s elite rugby players.

“I don’t agree with everything that happens in rugby but what Liam Hennessy did successfully with the IRFU, despite all the arguments against him, was to enforce a 10-week pre-season,” explained Duggan.

“Training is banned but players are put on prehab programmes to gradually build up their strength and flexibility for the season ahead.

“That way they are more than ready for the onslaught of games to follow as opposed to now in the GAA where players go straight into games after a period of non-activity.

“It’s the model to follow for us, over a six- to eight-week timeframe, possibly between mid-November and December.

“Not only would it eliminate a whole host of injuries it would also benefit players psychologically. That’s where the real burnout factor is.”

Duggan is well aware the pre-season period would have to be adhered to by all counties.

To ensure that, the GPA have suggested getting inter-county teams’ physicians and other medical and physical advisors to endorse and administer the initiative.

“What the GPA have been saying is we have so many fancy physiotherapists and sports science experts being paid to look after teams that maybe they should come together and take responsibility for this pre-season.

“They would have to buy into it, of course, but it works. This idea of downing tools, forgetting the logistical problems it causes, doesn’t.

“How feasible is a pre-season for players? You’re still going to have 30% of players lining out for their clubs and colleges at that time of year but this is something that all GAA players should be entitled to buy into.”

Duggan is concerned players are not being conditioned sufficiently enough to complement the fitness levels they are required to meet.

“The fitness levels of players are going through the roof,” said Duggan. “In Dublin, Pat Gilroy has been bringing in 50 to 70 guys at the start of January, driving their bodies to the limit and the 30 who are standing by the end of it make the panel.”

As eight third-level teams today fight to play three games over the next three days in a bid for Sigerson Cup glory, Duggan needs no reminding of just how much players will be demanding of their bodies in UCD.

However, the Kilmacud Crokes man feels a pre-season would put the players in a much better position to endure the rigours of the competition.

“Rather than make a fuss about the Sigerson Cup and the three games in three days we should look at introducing a pre-season and considering how better prepared players would be for it,

“There are some players who are physically built to cope with as many games as you can throw at them but it’s the less prepared guys who will be at most risk of injury this weekend.

“I played in six Sigerson Cups and won four and they remain phenomenal memories.

“I can’t remember if I played when the finals were last staged over three days but it goes against all physiological norms.”

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