The u21 All Ireland football semi-finals were two cracking games of open, fast, tough football.
The previous week we saw two senior league semi-finals that were hard to watch unless you were a Kerry or Dublin supporter.
Some of those who were part of the U21 panels will also be seen playing later in the summer for their senior teams. Burnout and player injury are somewhat entwined, according to the GAA Playing Rules committee one of the main concerns was the over activity between the ages of 17-21.
It’s also interesting to note that this age group is most vulnerable to player drop out.
What are the reasons for this? Is it because players get side tracked by other interests, part-time jobs, exams, life in general or is it because they are exposed to too much football/camogie/ladies /hurling?
In a recent issue of Gaelic Life, the sports coach Fergus Connolly wrote a feature on injuries and injury prevention.
One of the points he makes is how managers are in a prime position to aid prevention and recovery. In my opinion that point could be argued. Some managers look at the long-term benefit of both the player and the team, while there those who only see short term success thereby jeopardising the long-term health of the player.
It has been rumoured that physios have stopped treating players or have left county set ups because player welfare is of the least importance.
Generally managers are only concerned with the players who are fit and available to them in order to win the match. If a player has not fully recovered, but there is a possibility that their team can win the match, then of course there is desire from both player and manager to play.
However, this instance usually happens as the season progresses and it becomes last-chance saloon. My concern is that the player is then put in a no-win situation due to the pressure he or she feels to play despite not being fully fit.
From my own experience the recovery from an injury is as mentally challenging as it is physically. The worry of getting back onto the pitch or being ready for a big game causes sleepless nights and only intensifies if there is added pressure from a manager to play.
Some managers don’t realise the undue pressure that is being put on players. This pressure usually occurs at county level where a player has to serve more than one master.
My club Clonduff were involved in the Ulster U21 Championship this year and it was brilliant not just for the team but for everyone in the club.
The quarter finals were played in January before the GAA gets up and running.
The Donegal representatives were Kilcar who were narrowly defeated in their quarter finals. This defeat was compounded when they had to field without their best players – one of whom was voted Young Player of the Year in 2015.
Their unavailability, we were led to believe, was because the Donegal senior manager prohibited them from doing so as they had arranged a county challenge match putting the players in an impossible situation.
To put those players in that position and make them choose between playing for their club in a competition that is specifically for that age group or playing in a challenge match in January is both emotionally and mentally draining on a player.
What is the harm in allowing players to take part in a game that was specifically for their age group?
Abolishing the intercounty U21 championship is not the answer.
The GAA also tried to impose training bans on county teams in the off season too and as we all know this does not work. Managers will stop at nothing to give themselves a head start on the opposition, we hear of the training regimes that county players are going through now….gym sessions, pitch sessions, recovery sessions, tactics, sessions in the morning / evening, training weekends, training camps abroad……where does it all end?
The number of players that require surgery on injuries is reaching epidemic levels that could leave them with long-term health issues. I do believe that we are only at the tip of the iceberg concerning injuries and burnout, and that the demands placed on players is unsustainable.
Watching players who have performed at the highest level into their mid-thirties will soon become a thing of the past and the retirement age of an intercounty player will become lower and lower.