Bealin tackles colleges issue

New Westmeath manager Paul Bealin has criticised the Football Review Committee (FRC) for not recommending a change to the college football calendar.

Bealin tackles colleges issue

The former Dublin midfielder took over from Pat Flanagan for the coming season and has the daunting task of keeping Westmeath in Division 1. He will be without nine players in next month’s Bord Na Mona O’Byrne Cup because they are committed to playing for their colleges in pre-season competition. They include John Heslin, Ger Egan and James Dolan.

It leaves Bealin with a headache and he was disappointed to see the FRC elect not to move the Sigerson Cup to a pre-Christmas date. The group argued it would have caused “unwelcome problems” for the colleges because of semester exams in December.

“They haven’t addressed it,” said the ex-Wexford and Carlow manager. “They talk about player burnout and closing the season then they have six to eight weeks when players in that particular age bracket, 18 to 22, are playing highly intensive football for that window.

“Then you’re coming into March, April, when you should be getting hungry and fit, and the ground gets harder, and you kick on into the season. But lads are tired then so it’s a huge challenge.”

Bealin is acutely aware of how important having his players available to him is going into a campaign where they will face four of this past season’s All-Ireland semi-finalists.

“You want your squad together to prepare for the league. Because we’re in Division 1 you want them all playing to a system. You’re not going to get them until the second or third week of January. They’ll be playing Sigerson, training for Sigerson, training with your team.

“There is a good debate around player welfare, player burnout, particularly when you’re at university. While I understand universities are important and scholarships are important to the players, any manager coming in for the first time wants to have his whole squad together so he can play systems, and train and coach them properly.

“They [college competitions] should be played pre-Christmas because there’s just too much going on. The window’s too tight. U21 is starting as well in the middle of February. There’s eight or nine of my players that are involved in the U21 squad.

“The players have so many masters, and they’re trying to keep everybody happy. When you start pulling them and you don’t use common sense and they’re saying ‘I’m training for this, I’m playing for that’ it’s very difficult for any manager. It’s too much on the player and it’s not right because if you’ve got a scholarship you have to play for the college.”

Bealin is staging a series of challenge games at the moment. Westmeath faced Roscommon last night and have arranged a match with Cavan on Sunday.

Altogether, he has 42 players on the panel while veteran Dessie Dolan is undergoing a strength and conditioning programme in Dublin after having his troublesome hamstring assessed by a 3D camera in the Sports Clinic in Santry.

“It’s a recurring injury with his hamstring that breaks down every six to eight weeks during training sessions and with his own club Garrycastle as well.

“He’s the sort of guy that wants to play. He’s 34 years of age, we’ve done a body composition on him and he’s in good shape. All the news that he’s got back from the medical side of it has been positive. If he gets himself fit, he’s good enough to play a part.”

After recent good league campaigns were followed up by poor Championship runs, Bealin’s eyes are directed towards the summer.

Staying in Division 1, though, is a priority and he won’t make any excuses for Dublin being the haves and Westmeath the have nots.

“Everybody aspire to be where Dublin are right now.

“They talk about the north and south and splitting it, which is a ridiculous comment to make because looking at the success Dublin have they’ve got it right, they’ve looked at the structures.

“Back as far as 2002 when Armagh won their All-Ireland and how physically strong they were, Dublin started their under-age programmes with strength and conditioning and they’ve reaped what they’ve sown.”

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