A common theme in recent years is how the demands of playing intercounty GAA affect players’ personal and professional lives. It is now something top teams are trying to address.
Speaking on, former Mayo manager James Horan explained how off-field issues can impact an individual’s performance.
“A lot of counties now, you can’t have a player at his best and performing at the highest level if his whole life, career and everything, isn’t in balance,” said Horan.
“If you have a player playing intercounty football at the highest level worrying about how he will get paid, his relationship with his girlfriend or college, if that is not right and he is not balanced, he will not perform like he can.
“There has been a huge focus over the last few years to make sure everything comes up together. Performance on the field as well as lifestyle, relationships, career all that stuff. How can you maximise their career while they are playing football.
“Take Covid, we found it very interesting where we are based in Mayo. We had a lot of players based in Dublin and the journey up and down, whether it be after training or after a game was horrendous for our injury rate. It just was over time. Rob Hennelly, Cillian O’Connor and the likes coming up and down.
“With remote working, we got a huge bounce off that. Fellas very serious about their careers in serious positions, on training days they could work from home so they could maximise recovery, go to training and travel in their own time. It is a changing environment.”
In 2022, Horan finished his second term as Mayo manager having logged eight years across two stints. During that time they have specific individuals as part of the setup assisting players in this field.
“We’d a specialist in helping us with that,” he explained.
“We’d a career coach. Then we had a forum of three top level businessmen that never wanted their names mentioned or wanted anything but they really helped. We’d support for the players LinkedIn for example, getting profiles set up correctly all that sort of stuff. It would all be done by experts who meet regularly with the players.”
Louth footballer and former AFL star Ciarán Byrne, who is currently sidelined after a cruciate ligament injury, agreed and said he has tailored his career to suit Gaelic football.
Byrne currently runs his own business, Bodyrock Reformer Pilates.
“It is really interesting to hear James that ye had someone in to look after players in the grand scheme of things with their lifestyle. That is the way intercounty has gone. But it is a lot easier for teams in Division 1 and Division 2 to get players jobs or stuff suitable for their lifestyle. Teams in Division 3 or Division 4, players there aren’t getting that support.”
He continued: “I know my lifestyle; it does marry well with GAA. For example on Mondays I leave them free to recover from games at the weekend. That is the way it is gone. You have to think like a professional.”