You have to admire the O’Donoghue Cup. It just refuses to quit.

After the cancellation of last Sunday’s final due to adverse weather conditions, the season will now end for Legion and Dr Crokes today, the 15th of December.

I’ll stop short of blaming the GAA or the East Kerry Board for Storm Atiyah but it’s hard not be frustrated at this stage. Just like last year, and the year before, our footballers are not going to get a proper break before the next season kicks off again in January.

Legion actually began training for the 2019 season in December of 2018 so they’ve been on the road for 12 full months. As for Dr Crokes, due to their involvement in the 2018/19 Munster and All-Ireland Club Championships (which ran until March 17), they basically never stopped training at all.

This, to my mind, represents a major player welfare issue and I find it incredible that in this modern era of heightened sensitivity and awareness when it comes to physical and mental health, the GAA think that it’s acceptable for players to be playing and training for 12 months of the year.

EAST KERRY BOARD

Last year I spoke to a number of players about the O’Donoghue Cup and how it was being run off and, to a man, they were all quite critical of the board. Personally I would agree that the staging of our district competitions could be improved upon. Actually, I would argue that one of the competitions, the Super League, shouldn’t be staged at all.

Dr Crokes’ participation in the Munster Club Championship is often cited as the main impediment to completing the East Kerry Championship in a timely fashion. This year, the Crokes didn’t qualify. Yet here we are again, deep into December, and little has changed.

I suppose it’s easy to direct our ire at the East Kerry Board because right now it’s their competition that we’re waiting on, but that wouldn’t be right.

There’s a far bigger picture here. The current GAA schedule, at both intercounty and club level, is an absolute mess. There are simply too many competitions and the only way of fixing it is by adopting a blank canvas approach to the entire schedule. Sadly, the GAA seem to disagree.

TWEET

I put up a tweet last Sunday saying: “Legion v Dr Crokes has been called off ‘in the interest of player safety’. If the GAA really cared about player welfare there wouldn’t be football in December in the first place.”

If you were to go through the likes the tweet got you’d recognise a lot of the names. Crokes players, Legion players, club players from up and down the country, current Kerry players, recently retired Kerry players; GAA stakeholders who understand the ways in which the current schedule affects the lives of footballers, because it does or has affected their lives for years.

And then you look at those who tend to take a dim view of comments like mine. It’s almost exclusively non-players; one gets the impression that many of these people would be delighted if the final of the East Kerry Championship took place on Christmas Day. Wouldn’t that be a nice tradition?

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but is it possible that the players know what they’re talking about, seeing as how they’re the ones actually dealing with the problem year in, year out?

Looking from the outside, as officers, ex-players and supporters are, it is perhaps difficult to appreciate how hard it is to be a Gaelic footballer in 2019. It’s not a pastime.

These days, players are expected to prepare as if they were operating at a professional level. They have to adapt their diets. They have to do private gym sessions. They have to abstain from alcohol. They’re expected to put their team above all other considerations. As one coach told us, “you should be making excuses to come to training, not excuses to miss it”.

And all of these demands exist before a backdrop of fixture chaos, particularly at club level where you can go weeks and weeks without playing games, or even knowing when your next game might be.

RESPONSIBILITIES

Casual observers tend to picture your standard footballer as a young guy without a care in the world but players have girlfriends, wives, kids, full-time jobs, college commitments (often in a different county) and countless additional responsibilities that have to be managed around their other job: being a Gaelic footballer.

And make no mistake, playing football at the level that we’re talking about is not a hobby. It’s a job. For many players, it’s more important than their nine-to-five, and it has a greater impact on their mental wellbeing.

When things go to plan, sport has the power to elevate and energise. Unfortunately things don’t always go to plan and when that happens, sport also has the power to deflate and depress. The psychological strain that sport puts on players is far greater than many people realise. And this is before you factor in the physical demands, which are also intense.

When you give yourself to a sport and to a team, you really do give all of yourself. Again, it’s not a pastime. It’s a job. And a hard one at that.

Is it unreasonable to ask for some time off?

 

Pic: Séamus Healy.