Young: Lockdown has stripped away players’ identities

Damien Young, performance analyst with the Tipperary hurlers these past 12 years, caught up with a friend, via Zoom, on Sunday last.
Young: Lockdown has stripped away players’ identities
This is a ‘really challenging time’ for players, says Damien Young, performance analyst with Tipperary hurlers.

Damien Young, performance analyst with the Tipperary hurlers these past 12 years, caught up with a friend, via Zoom, on Sunday last.

It was a conversation typical of this lockdown period. The questions posed were the same ones we have all been asked in recent weeks: How are you managing? How are you adapting to working from home? How are you finding the restrictions? And so on and so forth.

There was, of course, mention of the GAA and the void it has left.

At one point during their virtual chat, Young’s friend said to him, ‘I can’t wait for the hurling to be back, just can’t wait’.

It is a sentiment widely shared.

There may be collective understanding that the nation’s health is the number one priority at the moment, but that doesn’t mean people can’t still yearn for a return to GAA activity in the months ahead.

“It gives players and coaches, but also the community, something to talk about and to live for, if you like.

It just goes to show how valuable sport is, especially at a local level where the GAA represents that connection with the parish.

"In a lot of communities in Ireland, life revolves around the GAA club,” says Young, whose day job is that of a sports studies lecturer at Setanta College.

The Drom-Inch native has represented Tipperary at minor, U21, and senior level. And while fully cognisant of the bigger picture, Young feels for today’s players. He sees this as a “really challenging time” for them.

Part of their identity has been taken away.

“In the village or town they come from, people would say, there is X player. They are recognised by that. The next thing you know, you are at home all the time and you are not getting that. That can be a shock.

“Adult players, be they club or county, have grown up on a serious diet of hurling and football. They are consuming this diet 24/7 nearly 365 days of the year. All of a sudden, then, this is dramatically reduced.

“Up to the serious lockdown, some of them were probably still going to the local field because it is a place they can connect with and just play.”

The local field is — or, at least, was — the meeting point within a community, the place where young and old came to engage and express themselves. No amount of time spent on Zoom or WhatsApp conversing with friends and teammates can compensate for such.

It is not only the absence of games, says Young, that is being sorely felt.

“Players are missing the interaction and social connection that sometimes you take for granted; going to the field, sitting in the dressing-room talking to your friends, going out onto the pitch, getting through the session, and using up all the energy you had during the day when looking forward to this training.

“Players can do all the hurling they want on their own, but it is really that connection and getting that team-play together, the playing of internal and small-sided games, that is what they get the kick out of.

“Training, of course, is built around the opportunity to represent your place and express yourself on the big day. We are all uncertain as to when it is going to be back, if at all [this year].”

Chatting to this newspaper last week, Cork footballer Kevin Flahive expressed the hope that players would be given at least four weeks to prepare collectively if there is to be a Championship later in the season.

Young, who was invited onto the Tipperary backroom team by Liam Sheedy in 2008, stresses the importance of players being given adequate time to ready themselves for a return to competitive fare.

“The danger is that if you fast forward to some time in the future where there is activity, you’ll first have a sudden burst in training activity, followed then by a sudden burst in games activity, so there is a chance of increased injuries and players breaking down.

"It would be devastating if a player, after waiting for months to get back playing, did too much too soon and picked up an injury, as a result.

“If there is a return, the players should be given an opportunity to get back up to the level they were at [before the lockdown] because it is a serious level.”

That’s the big if, of course. The Government decision to ban events attracting crowds of 5,000-plus until September 1 did not spell good news for the 2020 inter-county season.

Whatever about the prospect of county or All-Ireland championships being run off, Young relishes the day the lock is lifted on the Drom-Inch field and there is the opportunity to once again ping a sliotar back and forth with teammates.

The GAA is important to so many people. We live in hope. The reality is that people’s health is number one. Even the chance of something happening is something to look forward to, be it just going to the field to have some sort of get-together with your own group.

"It may not be a championship, it may not be an inter-county championship.

“But to be able to meet up again, to even be allowed to play an internal game, we have so much to look forward to.”

Where players have had no option but to down tools, there has been no pressing of the pause button on the coaching front.

Young delivered two coaching webinars last week, one of which, organised by the GAA as part of their April coaching series, was watched by up to 800 people.

“There is a huge thirst for knowledge at the moment. One of the key aspects of this time is to use it to reflect on your current coaching practices.

"Ask yourself: What am I doing with my team? How much of it is good, and are there elements in there that I could actually change?

“Are there elements of the game that I really like, but are the players benefiting from that? Each group will need little bits from different aspects of the game to improve them.

"Are you adaptable to what your team needs? Use this time to say, maybe I should be doing a little bit more of this and that, and then upskill yourself in that area.”

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