Graham Cummins: League of Ireland players deserve a proper break

'January to November is a long time to be playing and be in and around football every day. There is a reason for an off-season; so players can mentally refresh for the season ahead.'
Graham Cummins: League of Ireland players deserve a proper break

Cork City's Eabha O'Mahony shoots from Athlone Town's Laurie Ryan at Turner's Cross earlier this season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

PRESEASON seems to be outdated — now teams are pushing players in their pre-preseason.

No longer are League of Ireland clubs allowing players six to seven weeks off before returning in January.

Players are being given three weeks off before returning to club training in December.

Shelbourne were back in the gym at the end of November, and more and more clubs are putting pressure on their players to make the commitment before preseason. I find it strange that clubs in Ireland have decided to go down this route when clubs in the UK do not persist with this avenue.

The argument could be made that those players can afford their own personal trainer and don’t need to go back weeks before preseason and spend hours in the gym with their teammates, and their manager doesn’t need to run the players into the ground in the first few sessions.

The benefit of doing a 'pre-preseason' is that players’ risk of picking up an injury in the actual preseason is reduced.

Managers are able to monitor players off-season and put pressure on them if they feel that a player needs to be doing more and isn’t looking after himself over the Christmas period.

Of course, pre-preseasons can be beneficial, but from my experience, they can be mentally draining and also show a lack of trust in players. Most training sessions are not difficult.

They mainly involve weight sessions and improving a player’s running technique — to try to improve a player’s speed. Clubs do like to throw in the odd endurance session, such as a bleep test or a 2km run. Although it sounds short; that 2km run might be the hardest session a player will do all year.

I remember with Cork City ahead of the 2019 season, we were given the challenge of trying to complete a 2km run in seven minutes. That session always sticks in my mind, because no one on the team could achieve it. If memory serves me right, Karl Sheppard came closest to achieving it, but I think he may have missed out by seven or eight seconds. 

Apart from the odd endurance sessions, workouts are relatively easy physically, but I believe mentally is where pre-preseasons are negative for players. January to November is a long time for players to be playing and be in and around football every day. There is a reason for an off-season; so players can metally refresh themselves for the season ahead.

Before, as much as players don’t enjoy preseason, they would be excited to come into the training ground because they have been off for a lengthy time and feel fresh for the season ahead. 

With this new approach, it feels like players have never been away from the club, and didn’t have a chance to recharge the batteries.

So by the time preseason comes round, players are already counting down the days to the mid-season break and not excited for the season ahead.

Being mentally fresh is just as important as being physically fresh. A player’s mentality is what motivates the player and creates that drive. If a player is mentally drained before the season begins, it doesn’t matter how many weight sessions he did during the off-season — you aren’t going to get the best from the player.

TRUST

I think pre-preseason shows a lack of trust in players. Why can’t clubs just let players have six weeks off?

Do they call them back early in case they feel that they won’t be capable of doing their own training?

Are managers fearful that their players aren’t professional enough to come back to preseason in some sort of respectable condition without having to complete a pre-preseason?

One of the attractions to playing in the League of Ireland was the notion that players would be off for December.

Players in the UK don’t enjoy playing matches over the winter, and the prospect of spending time with their loved ones over the Christmas period was what helped clubs in Ireland attract players from abroad.

It can harm a club’s chance of signing players in Ireland as well.

Players from Dublin don’t want to spend the off-season travelling to and from places like Cork and Sligo. They will be hesitant to sign for these teams until January, which gives other clubs the opportunity to persuade the player to join them.

If clubs didn’t have a pre-preseason, perhaps players would be more inclined to sign for them, especially when clubs are expecting players to do these sessions for free.

What’s the attraction of a player signing for a club in December and having to spend time away from home and not being paid for it? There are very few clubs that pay 52-week contracts, and most clubs start playing players in preseason.

I think it is very cheeky of a club to demand their players attend pre-preseason training when the players are not under contract at the time.

However, although players complain about not being paid during pre-preseason, and threaten among themselves not to turn up for sessions, they always do, because although they are not contracted to, they know that the manager will hold it against them for the upcoming season if they don’t.

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