In a lifetime devoted to hurling, as both player and manager Maurice Aylward has won honours at every level from county to All-Ireland with his club Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Last year he led another Kilkenny club, St. Patrick’s of Ballyragget, to the All-Ireland JHC title and this year, their first at intermediate grade, they went all the way to the county final where they lost a low-scoring game to Clara.
A man then with a great love and passion for the game, Aylward has seriousconcerns about hurling and hurlers.
“The GAA keeps coming up with proposals but I never hear of anything coming from Croke Park for the clubs, nor of anything to address the problem of players between the ages of about 18 to 21 being completely overused. The demands of certain college managers now even exceeds some of the work done at senior level in some counties.
“I’m told of one college where the players did 75 or 80 sessions in preparation for the Fitzgibbon Cup, some of those at six o’clock in the morning. That’s going much too far, in an amateur sport. There’s already enough stress on these lads in their education. It’s a vital time in their lives, a pivotal time in their careers. They have the Leaving Cert, then all the massive decisions to be made — put that with the demands on you if you’re an inter-county player, then double that up again if you’re a dual player.
“You make your decisions, go on to college, then — if you’re serious about your education — you have to put in the hours of class and study. It all adds up and there’s no doubt about it, it’s having a very bad effect, too many players coming down with injury very early in their careers. I saw it myself with Ballyragget in the last couple of years. We had a number of U21 players on the team and those lads are under enormous pressure. I know a lad in Wexford, an outstanding dual player — he was on a double programme, serving his club at minor, U21 and adult, his county at minor and U21, at both codes — and already he’s burned out and has had a couple of hip operations.”
Aylward has called on Croke Park to step in and stop the madness.
“Those players want to say no but they can’t, not to any of their various team managers, or they’re criticised. The decision has to be made for them, they have to be protected. In the work-place people are protected from being over-worked, the same should apply to the GAA.
“I was reading lately where Michael Owen blamed the injuries that have interrupted his career on the number of games he played in the early days at Liverpool, but he was playing in just one grade, very professionally managed — he’d be at a training-session, run down to the end of the field and there’s a specialist there, run back and there’s another at that end! There has to be some reason for this explosion in cruciate injuries, groin injuries, hips, the various knee and ankle injuries — those are all on the increase.”
Even Kilkenny isn’t immune, he claims. “Ned Quinn is an excellent administrator, I have great time for him professionally and personally, likewise Brian Cody, and both are also great clubmen, but I wish they’d put as much emphasis on the club as they do on the county.
Club players spend the summer sitting idle then suddenly you have game after game week after week, no chance for players to recover. — we didn’t start the intermediate championship here in Kilkenny until the second Sunday in October. After the All-Ireland final replay we had the final round of the league to play, then we got into championship — in the middle of October, then it was non-stop for weeks after that on heavy ground.
The GAA is there to give games to players at every level but at the moment there is a complete imbalance. Players in that one age-group are getting far too many games, doing far too many training-sessions, yet the only worry in Croke Park seems to be how they can give even more games to the inter-county teams on which these guys are playing. Where is the GPA in all this? Why isn’t the GAA protecting its own greatest assets? It’s crazy.
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