John McEntee: We must avoid becoming the Grinch Athletic Association

CHRISTMAS TV guides have been released with many stations airing repeats of the same old classic comedy sketches and movies we’ve all seen a thousand times before.

Many commentators suggest such scheduling is evidence of a complete lack of imagination on the part of broadcasters but I disagree and, just like every other year, many families will gather around the flatscreen to laugh at Morecambe and Wise recite gags such as:

Ernie: “He says he’s a self made man.”

Eric: “Good of him to take the blame.”

Then there’s the hilarious comic timing of Fletch in the ‘Just Desserts’ episode of Porridge in which he lost a tin of pineapple chunks, Fletch: ‘I don’t quite know how to put this, gentlemen, but there is a thief among us.’

For the men who are in charge of the remote control, there are the usual host of action movies which always seem to entertain and surprise no matter how often they’re seen.

It seems there is also an even spread of romcoms or movies based on true stories which researchers suggest will pluck at the heartstrings of women and many couples.

As always there is a catch – they clash with the macho movies so an intriguing battle of hearts and minds will ensue within each house to determine who watches which movie.

The fact that so many of these productions can be viewed all year round is irrelevant, people’s lives are generally so busy they don’t even have the time to watch the news.

Perhaps my favourite Christmas movie is The Grinch.

It is the story of how a boy grew up in an orphanage feeling unloved and never having witnessed the joys that the Christmas period brings.

As I watched this movie this week with this article foremost in my thoughts, my mind took a queer twist on the tale.

There was a recent time in the GAA calendar that December was considered a closed month for inter-county players.

We all know this directive from Central Council was never adhered to and was soon to be removed.

Worse still, provincial competitions have commenced in December which means that players who have one eye on an 2019 All-Ireland final on September 1 are submerged in full-time, full-on training prior to and during Christmas.

As a supporter, I was excited at the prospect of watching county football again, however, after 20 minutes I wondered if I was wise paying in to watch Armagh trash St Mary’s University, Belfast in a completely one-sided affair.

County players the length and breadth of Ireland are being asked to train more often during the Christmas period.

In the past, requests not to over indulge on food or beer were generally heeded and players. This be have been due to self preservation and perhaps a small dose of vanity, so that training could commence in January.

It was a time when it was okay to be bored. Charities would use this down-time to schedule a match between players from neighbouring counties to raise much needed cash.

In my early playing career, I used to look forward to the call from John Joe Cunningham in Carrickmacross to play in a charity game on St Stephen’s Day against a mix of county players from all the counties bordering Monaghan. Some years later, when I met John Joe again, I said to him I knew my inter-county playing days were numbered when he stopped calling.

It takes someone with strong values to prioritise family time or essential down-time for themselves, and to schedule social time with friends while being an inter-county player during the festive period.

If these young men are compelled to commit to a structured programme over this period, they can easily grow to dislike this time of year.

Placing demands on young men, who are participating voluntarily in an amateur sport, to prioritise a long-term aspiration over a few days’ craic and relaxation may create for ourselves our very own Grinches -– grumpy young men who are burdened by the pressures of being an inter-county player and who miss out on the things that creates the glue binding them to their friends and family during this time.

As the narrator in this movie says: ‘Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!’

There are, of course, those who would cite the benefits of training and maintaining one’s discipline and it is hard to disagree.

Yet, it is important to have balance between physical exercise, structured routines and the value of down-time and mental and physical recuperation in this debate.

Christmas is not a time of year to bank several heavy sessions and to treat your time off from work or school to focus on a training camp.

Its true significance to young people is much greater than that. As The Grinch summed up the festive period he said: “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or rags.....Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas....means a little bit more.”