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26th Nov 2016

#TheToughest Issue: Is it time to enforce a winter break for club GAA players?

Conan Doherty


It’s the mental pressure that contributes most to burnout more than the physical strain.

Young footballers and hurlers are being asked to give the very best of themselves to their clubs, to their schools and maybe their counties too but, whilst it’s surely tough to cope with the demands of training and playing so much, it is tougher to give it your total focus and commitment for 12 months of the year.

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be an off-season, even for unsuccessful clubs.

Teams exit the championship and they start preparations to improve for next season almost immediately. It’s admirable and it’s indicative of just what the club means to us all but it’s impossible to maintain that level for so long without respite.

Stuff you hear now – in November – is bordering on madness. Teams are rumoured to have started back collective sessions on the same weekend their own county’s championship was at the semi-final stage. The championship wasn’t even over and they’re looking to next season’s one already.

Other guys are being made to log the amount of pitch sessions they’ve completed each week – in November – so the club can monitor just who will be ready for the summer.

Pictures are being sent into WhatsApp groups to prove that you’ve been to the gym and the funny thing is: most people, most Gaels, would go away over winter and hit the gym anyway. But now it feels like they’re being forced to do it – which they are. Now it feels they’re not getting a clean break – which they’re not.

How do you police a winter break? You can’t really – the inter-county scene has taught us that much. And how the hell do you even think about going about a winter break for clubs when their provincial finals are played so late in the year and then boys have All-Ireland semis to prepare for?

The simple answer is to reschedule the championships in a system that gives every single player – club and county players – December off, regardless of whether you’re playing in and All-Ireland final or not.


Unfortunately, the simplest answer seems to be the most unrealistic of them all.

The only thing that’s for it is to enforce a winter ban anyway. After this weekend, there will only be five football clubs remaining in the championship, and training should be made illegal for the rest of them until the new year. It won’t be 100 per cent effective but it will at least make what’s happening now in November an issue and it might even empower some players to say, ‘leave me alone, I’ll see you in the new year.’

Nothing beats the club championship. Nothing beats the club. We just don’t players to become sick of it. Give them a break. Have them chomping at the bit to get back.

God knows they give enough themselves for long enough for the cause.

Dick Clerkin makes his GAA Hour debut to talk about a wonderful career and argue passionately with Colm Parkinson over Sky Sports GAA. Subscribe here on iTunes.