Kieran McGeeney says GAA players should not assume they are elite athletes just because they train several nights a week.
The Armagh manager believes a chaotic fixture calendar is more responsible for player burnout than excessive training and while he has sympathy for the country’s top young players who face constant demands from third-level, U21 and senior county teams, the rest he feels are not over-worked.
“I still can’t see where GAA players train that hard, despite what people may say. Any other sport trains much harder. If you look at a rower, a swimmer, a cyclist in this country. We are all competing at an amateur level.
“But it’s better not to kid ourselves we are at the elite end of sport. I’ve done most of the training and I’ve seen other players do most of the training and you train twice a week – Tuesdays and Thursdays – and you have two gym sessions.Most people who have any keep-fit regime do that. You can’t say you are elite if you do two or three nights a week at something.”
McGeeney was famed for his focus and supreme fitness during his playing career and for the most part, reckons the Armagh teams he played on trained harder than modern-day players.
He remembers in particular the tough years he spent under former Armagh joint-manager Brian McAlinden who won back-to-back Ulster titles before Joe Kernan led the team to the All-Ireland in 2002.
“Anyone wanting to know about training would want to try six years with that boy! (McAlinden). What we did back then, compared to what we do now, it was loads. Brian wanted to know who wanted to play for Armagh and what were their reasons for being there and he had a group of boys who really wanted to represent their county.”
The findings of the GAA’s Medical Scientific and Welfare Committee’s report at the end of last year indicated 14% of injuries in football are overuse injuries. Only 28% of injuries occur in a match situation, with 36% in hurling, with the majority of injuries sustained in non-contact. McGeeney still feels the imbalance to the fixture programme is a bigger contributing factor to burnout, holding up former Ireland rugby and Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll as an example of how to manage and develop young talent.
“Our main problem is our fixtures. In most other sports you play for a team. For example if Brian O’Driscoll was making the (Ireland rugby) senior squad at 19 he didn’t play for the U19s or the U20s, he played for the seniors and he didn’t play for the university either.
“There’s a whole lot of different things but that’s where we are, there is a group of young players that get pulled in every direction and that’s tough.”
The stories about Armagh’s extreme training regime under McGeeney last year were greatly exaggerated, and the former All-Ireland winning captain says some club and third-level teams train harder than some county teams.
“Most of the restrictions are at inter-county, but is that where most of the training happens? I don’t know the answer but I do know a lot of club teams and Sigerson teams that train a lot more than county teams, though not everybody does. We certainly didn’t train twice a day five days a week last year, when it was reported that we did.”
McGeeney, whose Division Two Allianz League campaign starts away to Meath on Sunday week, feels players are burdened by too much travelling.
But he’s disillusioned with a fixture calendar that he doesn’t see changing any time soon.
“There is an age group that is pulled in every direction especially at this time of year, but by end of February, most players will have half their games played at inter-county level.
“We play seven league games in a year over six months, which is ridiculous, then the championship is over another four months and most people have two games.
“Inter-county players play an average of nine games a year for the majority – two championship and seven league games over a nine-month calendar and that’s one every four weeks.
“All I can say is there are issues and most of them revolve around the f ixtures, everybody knows that but the fixtures won’t change.”
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