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John McEntee: Time to eat, drink and hang up the boots

The GAA pressure valve must be released, if only for one week

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My goodness, the week leading up to December 25 is arguably the most stressful time of the year. Knowing you have been granted approval from the boss for a few weeks rest, well-earned may I add, is pressure enough to somehow force 60 hours of work into a typical working week as things just can’t wait for two weeks until you return to your desk, or so it would seem. Then there’s the present – actually, just the one special present every man has to buy his wife/partner. Buying gifts for the kids and relatives is easy.

Some years ago a survey using the Holmes and Rahe Rating Scale identified the top three most stressful life events as death of a spouse, divorce and marital separation. If the authors were to conduct this survey on Irish men the most stressful life event would be picking the wife or partner a Christmas present. A wrong decision can lead to any one of the aforementioned outcomes.

After every storm there is a period of calm. This week is the epitome of that. All shops close on Christmas Day. A few less remained shut on St Stephen’s Day. Yes, it is a time to feast on rich food and to wet the lips with beverages of choice but, more importantly, it’s a time for family and to reflect with pride on the achievements of the past 12 months.

For footballers it is also a time to switch off completely. The closed seasons for teams vary depending on one’s success during the last campaign. No club team, not even the provincial winners, should be training this week. Their advice would be to watch what they eat and to go for an occasional run, just to keep themselves right for their renewed onslaught on the Andy Merrigan Cup in the New Year. Heaven only knows what the county teams are doing. Even if they were asked it’s unlikely a straight answer would be given. Suffice to say it is best not to pry at all.

Most sportspeople – male or female – approach their games very seriously nowadays. Any binging is followed by a fitness session to burn off excess calories. Modern managers will surely give their players freedom to make their own choices this week. It is a low risk/high reward strategy. In the past I found occassions like this useful for building trust between manager and player.

Sam Maguire has been visiting the elderly and infirmed, ably accompanied by stars of the Dublin three-in-a-row winning team. Giving of their time to make others happy. Sleeping rough to highlight the issue of homelessness. Their true acts of altruism can be examples for others to follow. Since that memorable final on September 17 the personalities of their players have shone through and their clinical, ruthless façade has been exchanged for a caring, fun-filled, socially conscious alternative. And it is refreshing, if not invigorating.

I have not observed much activity from the Galway hurlers and the Liam McCarthy Cup aside from the media time being soaked up by Joe Canning.

Joe’s performances on the field have made him a stand-out performer and one of the all-time scoring greats. His performances in front of the camera are equally impressive and have catapulted him into one of the GAA’s most marketable people. Joe made many admirable points during an interview with Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show, which is worth repeating at this quiet time of year. He shared how he dealt with the pressure of performing at the highest level. He went on to say that hurling does not define the man: “I am not Joe the hurler,” he said.

As our footballers chill out with a few beers and lead the life of every typical young man over the festive period, we should be dissuaded from using our amateur celebrity yardstick to judge them like we do from January onwards. Many of our footballers are still kids and the GAA pressure valve must be released, if only for one week. As Joe says, he is a man, a family man, who happens to play hurling.

I am reminded of a time when a friend gave birth to a baby boy. As the maternity nurse lifted the child off the weighing scales and passed him into his mother’s arms she said “congratulations – you have another famous footballer”. My friend’s response was “I have a beautiful baby boy who might play football”. It seems that people’s paths are being mapped out for them from birth.

Over the holiday season we ought to think of the small things we can do to nurture our kids to become what they want to be, not what society demands of them.

Finally, as 2017 draws to a close, I want to thank everyone involved in keeping our games alive and for the endless entertainment you have served up.

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