GAA Football

GAA could face player exodus if fixtures congestion isn't eased says Conor Deegan

New Down U21 boss Conor Deegan has admitted he fears for the future of Gaelic footballers in the midst of a hectic schedule
Neil Loughran

NEW DOWN U21 boss Conor Deegan has warned the GAA could face an exodus of players still in their footballing prime if they continue to be “flogged into the ground”.

Earlier this week the association’s director-general Paraic Duffy unveiled his updated proposal for a revamp to the Championship structure, as the search for a solution to the ongoing fixture congestion continues.

The wheels are currently in motion to form a Club Players’ Association, and Deegan believes players are approaching breaking point as the GAA calendar takes its toll.

“We have a phenomenal product, but it’s not right at the moment. The balance is wrong,” he said.

“The biggest issue now is that we’re asking so much of our players. The amount of training they’re having to go through, their lives are put on hold.

“We have to get things more streamlined. Let’s not train them to death, because that’s what we’re doing. We’re keeping them training all year round - there is no off switch.

“Boys get tired, they get fed up, they have a life away from it. When is a player’s peak now?

“If you keep dragging these young fellas all over the place they’re going to lose the appetite for it.”

Comparing the modern day to his own playing pomp when classy full-back Deegan was a central figure in Down’s All-Ireland successes of 1991 and 1994, he added: “It was a different time.

“We weren’t the same - we didn’t live in the gym five days a week. We trained a lot but we didn’t do what these boys do today.

“These boys never get a break, they’re being flogged into the ground. There has to be a point where you say ‘we’ve got to stop this’.”

Having managed clubs in Dublin for a decade, Deegan returned to his native county two years ago and has been tasked with helping rejuvenate Down’s ailing fortunes at underage level.

And the Downpatrick man says he intends to practice what he has preached by looking after the best interests of the players involved in the Down U21 set-up.

“For me it’s important to keep players fresh and interested,” said Deegan, whose backroom team includes Michael Walsh, Paddy Hardy and Bernie Ruane.

“At U21 you shouldn’t have to flog them. By and large they’re involved in senior teams, they’re involved with colleges so they’re all getting plenty of training. You have to be very careful with them.

“I think we’ve got to create an atmosphere of relative positivity, so that when they turn up to training they work very hard, try to enjoy it, and we keep it as tight and as short as necessary.

“Hour and a half, two hour sessions aren’t always required. If a guy is playing Sigerson or Ryan Cup, as well as his club, it’s about communication with the different parties. Trying to say ‘there’s a guy who needs a night off – or who needs a week off’.

“Maybe we all need to sit back and say, if we all keep taking stuff out of him, he’s going to suffer. I think players would respond to that. We have to get back to making life a wee bit easier for the player, and making it enjoyable.”

GAA Football

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