If you ask nearly any GAA player what month they dislike playing at the most, the overwhelming majority will say January. Yet, the GAA gods in their divine wisdom chose to schedule the start of both the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson cups as well as both the football and hurling league all in January.
I believe that this is a recipe for disaster which leads to disastrous results. I only have to look at NUI Galway’s Sigerson and Fitzgibbon cup teams for what can go wrong with this schedule. Four players between the two sides suffered season ending injuries before the season has begun, which I think is connected to the unattainable work schedule.
This is a result of not just the poor scheduling by the GAA, but also poor communication between the counties and the colleges both of whom seemed to be content to use the plays as much as physically impossible. It is not just in Galway where players are overworked; it seems to happen in every county. Kerry’s Tony Brosnan and Jack Savage both came for Kerry in a pre-season match hours after lining out in the Sigerson cup.
Every manager feels that their team comes first and there are no ‘ifs, buts or maybes’ that can convince them otherwise. For this reason, there needs to be a schedule change that can accommodate everyone, which I know is some far off dream and knowing the GAA, I believe they won’t address the problem until every player in the country is injured.
Of course, it is a bit of a generalisation to say that this is the case for all players. There are plenty of counties and colleges that are trying not to overplay their players, but they are the exception not the rule. Not only is the overplaying of players causing, in my eyes, multiple injuries, but it’s also causing injuries at the worst point of their careers, just when they’re getting started. Tommy Conroy will miss the entire season for Mayo in what would have only been his second full season with the county.
The GAA needs to protect its players and leaving it up to the management of the counties and colleges will solve nothing. Both sides will say that January is one of the most important times of the year for their squads and they need to be playing together if they want to stand a chance to win some silverware.
The amount of change that the GAA calendar and format has gone through in the last decade only for this problem to remain unresolved is baffling. The All-Ireland finals are in July and the GAA is still forcing so many games into a short period of time during the worst part of the year, sometimes all you can do is laugh.