Kerry captain Bryan Sheehan believes the All-Ireland SFC is in “dire need” of a revamp, calling for a condensed summer schedule.
The Kerry footballers enjoyed a 10-week layoff following the conclusion of their league campaign last year, with Sheehan labelling as “madness” the disproportionately high training to games ratio consequent of such a break.
A gap of no more than three weeks between championship games is Sheehan’s recommendation, in favour also of a more compact inter-county season to end the second-class treatment of club players.
“They will have to shorten the inter-county season because what is happening now does not make sense,” he argued.
“I mean you can play seven NFL games in just over two months and yet if we win Munster and don’t go the qualifier route, we play five games to get to an All-Ireland final - starting in May and ending in September. In my view, that is too big a gap.
“There is a stat out there that there is nearly 12 training sessions for every championship game you play. That is madness.
“I definitely think there is a case for championship games to be played every two weeks, or three weeks at a push, but I am all against these big gaps between games and that is what most players want.
“Then again, if you tighten up the inter-county season, when do you play club football? So there is a dire need for something to be done about the overall fixtures programme.”
Beyond championship schedules and forgotten club players, he fears most for the county U21 footballer. The new Kerry captain uses himself as an example in stressing the dangers of player burnout, revealing how he served six different masters when U21. And the issue, he affirms, is as prevalent today as it was 10 years ago.
“I had Sigerson, Kerry U21s, Kerry seniors, South Kerry, club U21s and the club adult team, it was absolute madness and it was very wrong. It hasn’t changed because I see now two of our fellas from St Mary’s are expected to play Sigerson football the week before an All-Ireland Club final.
“Then there are fellows on scholarships who are being threatened their scholarships will be taken off them if they don’t play. That is madness because all young lads want to do is play football, but everyone wants a piece of you; the club wants you, the Sigerson trainer wants you, Kerry want you training with Kerry, so there is a serious issue with burnout in younger players and it needs to be tackled.”
In light of the manic schedule he ploughed through before Christmas - Sheehan and a handful of St Mary’s footballers lined out for club and division over 12 consecutive weekends, many could argue that Sheehan himself is in danger of burning out.
St Mary’s contest the All-Ireland Club IFC decider on Saturday week and then its back with Kerry for the remainder of the spring. Fair going.
“The more football you play, the more enjoyable it is, but I know 12 weeks on the trot is definitely not the answer either and is a bit extreme.
“I don’t feel at the moment [mentally fatigued]. I’m actually loving it. I’m enjoying my football and a big thing is that I’m not injured. You’re not going into games with niggles saying ‘I’ve got to be careful with this or careful with that’. It probably has been [the best months of my career].
“The tiredness mightn’t come and please God it doesn’t. I would be hoping to play with Kerry for another four or five years, if things work out.
“Some morning I might wake up and decide I’m not able to play anymore so who knows. My point is, I’ve the opportunity this year to captain Kerry and I think we’ve an unbelievable chance of winning the All-Ireland.
“And if I get tired, I’ll get tired. But I’m not going to make a big issue of it and turn around and say if my performances are bad that it’s all down to tiredness.”
Following on from Kieran Donaghy’s comments earlier this week surrounding the RTÉ documentary on last September’s final, the five-time All-Ireland medal-winner also expressed his deep dissatisfaction that players weren’t informed referee David Coldrick was wearing a microphone.
“It was wrong that they did not inform us before the game, but what was even worse was they did not inform us before they broadcast it.”
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