Three leading inter-county players believe more and more players are walking away from Gaelic games in their mid-20s having been exploited as minors.
Waterford hurler Noel Connors, 2014 young hurler of the year Cathal Barrett and Meath football captain Kevin Reilly admit to lining out with up to eight different teams as minors, with Reilly lamenting the “narrow-mindedness” of managers in over-training young players.
The trio called on GAA top-brass to intervene in the ridiculous demands being placed on emerging talents.
“When I was 18, I was playing with eight different teams between hurling and football. You were training every single day. You had eight different managers calling at you. Each wanted you for their particular team. I wasn’t able to give my best or my all to any one code or team. My performances suffered, nobody got the best out of me,” said Reilly.
“Unfortunately, managers are guilty of being narrow-minded in that they want what is best for their team and feck anybody else. That cannot be the way.
“You look at so many young, fantastic talents at minor level that are not being seen at senior level. Where are they all going? By the age of 22, 23, they are not even playing club football any more.
“The classic example I have first-hand experience of is the Hogan Cup winning St Pat’s team from 2001. Five years later only two of that team were playing football, not even inter-county, just club.
“That is solely because they were being exposed to so much, so young. They didn’t come through because they were exploited, exploited, exploited.”
A PhD candidate focusing on club leadership within the GAA, Waterford defender Connors says rural clubs are being decimated by managers’ short-sightedness.
“The feedback from the research I am doing at present isn’t promising. What I have learned in rural clubs is that the talented 17-year-olds, who are being pulled by several different teams as minors, have given up the game by 24, 25. They are sick of Gaelic games. They just stop playing. It is not a case of cutting ties with their county or college, they just stop altogether.
“There has to be something put in place to look out for the player because at the end of the day we all love Gaelic games and we would rather be doing nothing else.”
Tipperary hurler Barrett said: “The GAA was the focal point of my life as a minor. To a certain extent I would have been [an indentured slave]. I used to play soccer and basketball but had to give them up at 17 because the GAA was so consuming.
Three sports became one sport and hurling took over my life for a number of years. It was relentless. I was definitely affected by such a heavy schedule.”
Meath full-back Reilly says it is imperative Congress pass into rule the minor review group’s proposal to raise the age eligibility for adult club competition from 16 to 17.
“This proposal is going to meet serious opposition. Every rural club will be against it, citing insufficient playing numbers.
“They want the young lads to come in and dig the team out.
“Coaches need to look at the bigger picture. If they want a 17-year old still playing when he is 27, then look out for him when he is a teenager, instead of forcing him to line out at adult level.”
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