CONSIDERING the demands on our young players is it time to stop established inter-county players from playing third-level competitions.
The Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup competitions have a great history and tradition no doubt but the demands on our talented young players are ever increasing.
Many inter-county teams are back pre-season training in advance of the 2019 season. Schedules can vary between teams but most teams will have collective sessions three to four times a week which players are expected to attend. On top of this, a player may have individual conditioning or recovery sessions to complete also.
The tricky part is that some players have third-level GAA commitments also. This on average may involve two collective sessions a week, which could be two trainings or training and a game. Coming close to championship in January this may rise to three to four sessions.
The player can’t do everything as it will lead to overtraining, sub-par performance and possible injury but also it is logistically impossible, as many sessions will clash.
The National League is important for many county teams. Consistent league performances can lay a foundation for a successful championship campaign. Also, many teams have much greater chance of league promotion over winning provincial or All-Irelands honours in the summer.
It's then understandable, that an inter-county manager would want his players at training. Once you start the league at the end of January it is very intense with seven games in nine weeks. Therefore if a team is targeting a good league a good pre-season preparation becomes very more important.
Sometimes there can be a good relationship between third-level managers and their inter-county compatriots and players can be released for college games. The player then plays his college game instead of an intense football or conditioning session with the county.
Many established players get away with playing a few competitive matches only with their college and are able to concentrate mostly on their inter-county preseason. In contrast, some other students can be put under pressure to train with their college as they are on sports scholarships.
It’s the students who are trying to progress into the league squad who can suffer the most. It can be frustrating for mentors and coaches alike as while you may have a talented squad at your disposal, you rarely get them all out on the pitch together. It similar to being in charge of a club team and you have players involved with various Cork teams.
The third level competitions can be a stepping-stone from club level to senior inter-county. This is more the case now with U20 grade instead of U21. Can we take this a step further and ensure that third level competitions are a breeding ground for future stars and not established inter-county players?
Most teams have extended panels over the winter period so this would need certain guidelines. Seniors teams could name a 25-man pre-season main panel. These players, even if students, are unable to play third level.
Supplementing this can be a 15-man development squad. These players can complete strength and conditioning programmes similar to the main squad but the key rule is that their collective pitch training and games are with their college team.
I have only selected the numbers above as an example only and I’m sure there is a better way of doing things. The club season may not have finished either for some players so obviously that would have to be considered also.
It would follow the example in the United States where college football is a breeding ground for future potential stars. You don’t play both competitions side by side.
Support, money and numbers involved in the US are on a much greater level, which obviously you are not trying to replicate. Instead, it’s about a similar concept where there is similar progress from college to elite level.
A later start to the National League would help also where, for example, the Sigerson Cup would be completed before the beginning of the league. There would be a transition period between both competitions, which would allow the progress of some development players to senior level for the upcoming inter-county season.
Players still benefit from the present structures with many people putting in great work. Like anything in life, it’s always good though to step back and consider is there a better way of doing things.
Looking ahead it is good to see Dromtariffe and Fermoy contesting Munster finals in the coming weeks. Both teams will need top performances to beat their respective Kerry opponents. A big part to play will be how each team has done their homework on the opposition.
In the recent senior encounter, Dr Crokes certainly had set up to nullify St Finbarr’s strengths. This laid a platform for a very comfortable win.
Another factor in any contest is motivation or hunger. Preparation and tactics are important but if you are missing that edge then losing is certainly a big possibility.
Nemo Rangers in Páirc Uí Rinn wiped out Dr Crokes easily, last December. That defeat was sure to hurt considering the rivalry plus how much recent success the club has had. It was no surprise then what intensity Crokes brought against St Finbarr’s.
A pure sign of Dr Croke’s hunger was the amount of tackling they did in the early stages. Many led to frees conceded but still, more importantly, it delayed St Finbarr’s attack. This was in contrast to St Finbarr’s who struggled to get any contact in. Ballygunner similarly had massive hunger last week in defeating Na Piarsaigh in the hurling club final.
Let’s hope we have two Cork football clubs progressing to the All-Ireland series in the coming weeks. They will need to be well set up plus have that psychological edge to win provincial honours.