Physio claims young GAA players are ‘institutionalised’ and suffer long-term repercussions

A leading sports physiotherapist claims young Gaelic players are “institutionalised” and many don’t realise what they have sacrificed for their sport until it is too late.

Former Tipperary hurling and Munster rugby physiotherapist John Casey (pictured) says inter-county GAA is “at if not passed” breaking point. 

He bemoans the lack of education provided to promising footballers and hurlers about the repercussions of their sacrifices.

“I think what we have now is younger guys going blindly gung-ho into high level GAA without fully realising what they’re sacrificing,” says the Nenagh-based physio who stepped down as Tipp physio after the 2012 season.

“The guys in the middle of it or coming to the end of it are realising the sacrifices they made through family and social life and career-wise are colossal.

“They’re saying ‘I’ll salvage as much of this as I can’.

“Some of the guys that have been through the process end up quite embittered after what they gave up for it. While it was glorious at the time, the long term repercussions are life-lasting.

“I think the sacrifices being asked of players without fully explaining to them the consequences are huge. 

“I found that in the years I was there every season it was getting more and more (demanding). 

“It’s not until you come out of it that you realise what you’re missing. You are actually institutionalised when you’re in there and you think differently. 

“You come out then and it’s hard to adjust and realise what happened outside the cocoon while you were in it.

“Since I’ve been away, I’ve had good chats with guys who are out of the system. 

“But you wouldn’t talk to a guy in the system because when they’re in and you’re out you’re in different circles and scenes and the interaction would be far less.

“The guys who are gone now realise what has passed them and they’re not told at the time.”

In football, Casey has seen the GPA attempt to balance up the training to game ratio by adding more matches but he believes only the strictest of monitoring can ensure players aren’t being excessively prepared.

“I don’t see how there can be (such monitoring) because everybody is looking for the edge. It really started from the mid-90s on with Clare who were supremely fit. Then the Corks and Kilkennys came through and everybody is trying to catch everybody else.

“Until the pitch is levelled from the top, that is going to continue. There will be a burnout and a drop-out of players.

“It’s not the strongest who survive; it’s often the guys who are the youngest or whose jobs allow them to train at that level. 

“It’s not always your best players who survive; it’s often the case they’re the most vulnerable.

“Until we hit a stage of technology where Big Brother is looking in and everyone is GPS-ed and checked all the time it’s not going to be a level field.” 

Casey can really only see the issue being fully addressed when the same symptoms of burnout and disenchantment are seen at club level.

“What used to be senior level commitment is now being seen at minor and U16 development squads that are now doing crazy stuff. Club teams are now doing what was done at inter-county level 10 or 12 years ago. 

When club players start putting their hands up then your grassroots are gone.”


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