John Meyler: 'The pressure on players socially, physically, and mentally is enormous'

John Meyler has warned of the enormous toll being taken on the GAA’s inter-county players after concerns expressed in Cork over the risk of “life-altering” injuries to elite footballers and hurlers.

John Meyler: 'The pressure on players socially, physically, and mentally is enormous'

By Brendan O'Brien

John Meyler has warned of the enormous toll being taken on the GAA’s inter-county players after concerns expressed in Cork over the risk of “life-altering” injuries to elite footballers and hurlers.

Douglas manager Mick Evans gave notice of just such a scenario following his side’s senior football championship win over Dohenys at the weekend when the club had to make do without six of their seven inter-county players.

The biggest fear I have is that we have an awful lot of lads who are playing senior football and who are getting, in my view, life-altering injuries,” said Evans. “That is a huge worry. There is too much of a load on a lot of these lads at senior inter-county level and we end up with a lot of lads missing as a consequence.

Meyler has seen first-hand the extra pressure being exerted on today’s inter-county contingents in hurling as well, with the introduction this year of a round robin competition in the Munster and Leinster championships. Demands in both codes are higher than ever and unlikely to remain static.

“I’ve said that the pressure on players socially, physically, and mentally is enormous but that’s the way the GAA is structured,” said Meyler yesterday.

“The club (game) has to be structured around the Leinster championship and Munster championships and in the All-Ireland series games have to be tighter.”

Meyler paid tribute to the work done by Declan O’Sullivan and the senior hurlers’ medical team in preparing the players — among them the Douglas pair of Eoin Cadogan and Shane Kingston — for the season’s workload and for the focus placed on recovery.

It’s just to get the structure in it, that’s the key thing, and to fit in the club matches,” he explained. “But the matches have to be played and not cancelled (and) there are probably too many competitions then.

Meyler’s preference may be to strip some of the fat from the fixtures calendar and focus on inter-county and club championship competitions, but this isn’t a straightforward case of all inter-county players returning to their clubs in a frazzled state.

County panels like Cork’s are subdivided into three groups: students, teachers, and the likes of Bill Cooper, Conor Lehane, Mark Ellis and Daniel Kearney who have jobs which do not involve lengthy summer holidays.

It is never a question of a one-fits-all solution and there is the added consideration of the fact that a number of inter-county fringe panellists have actually spent weeks, if not months, in cold storage by the time they return to the club scene.

“I’d say the one problem was that if guys weren’t getting matches in the Munster championship, then they can fall off because the games are so intense and that’s difficult to manage then, the depth of your squad, because you’re not really training.

“There’s no competitiveness in training matches because you’re minding them for the following Sunday. So, there are few issues to be ironed out there.”

The use of players has been a hot topic in the county for a fortnight now, ever since Cork let that six-point lead slip to Limerick, with the Cork management team’s substitutions in normal and extra-time dominating much of the discourse.

Mike Casey and Sean Finn celebrate after Limerick beat Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final
Mike Casey and Sean Finn celebrate after Limerick beat Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final

It’s made for a tough few weeks for the manager, though there has been no anonymous hate mail or anything of that kind, thankfully. He’s not complaining either. He understands that scrutiny is par for the course. But what would he change?

I’d have changed the last eight minutes but I can’t do that. That eight minutes needed composure both on and off the pitch. We’ve looked at that. We’ve spoken about it. We’ve talked about it, but the white heat of battle, sometimes it just passes you by and it’s gone.

He has taken to his bike in an attempt to escape some of the noise and gather his thoughts. An avid cyclist this past three years, he will complete the Skibbereen to Dingle leg of the Wild Atlantic Way Cycle Sportif next month over four days.

There’s an acceptance there that Cork, though they have progressed this year, they “have to move it on another small bit” and the thoughts of looking on as Limerick and Galway scrap it out for Liam MacCarthy this weekend are clearly turning his stomach.

The fare a week later will be far more palatable.

Meyler was among the attendance in Nowlan Park two weekends ago when the Cork U21s destroyed his native Wexford in the grade’s first All-Ireland semi-final and they meet Tipperary in the decider at the end of the month. Tipp have already been dealt with once this summer, in a one-sided Munster decider.

Denis Ring’s Cork charges are an exceptionally talented and physically mature bunch liberally sprinkled with senior experience.

Plenty more can expect a call from Meyler in the coming months.

“It’s a natural progression. The league is now becoming far more important to develop those type of players. Players that are probably 20/21, we need to blend them now in the league next year.

“You know, we tried to do that this year and we lost four out of the five matches. (Division) 1A is very competitive. I think that’s the way counties will now see the national hurling league in the future.”

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