GAA Football

Antrim boss Enda McGinley criticises four-week run-in to inter-county season

Enda McGinley (right) says he's lost several players to injury because of the tight pre-season time-frame

NEW Antrim manager Enda McGinley says watching players pick up avoidable injuries because of the tight four-week time-frame to prepare for the 2021 season has been “hard to stomach” and questioned Croke Park’s enthusiasm in lobbying for an earlier return to action.

When the GAA lost its ‘elite’ status entering 2021, the delay in getting back on the field tripped into several months and ensured the inter-county season would be greatly squeezed from roughly 27 weeks to 20 weeks.

As a result, the Association could only guarantee a truncated three-game National League competition on a regional basis with four weeks allocated to pre-season training, which got underway last week.

But McGinley has winced at the increased work-load the Antrim players have had to undertake since returning to collective training in order to be ready for their May 15 NFL opener against Mickey Harte's Louth.

“When we saw the players on zoom they were bouncing,” McGinley said.

“They were in good shape but the change-up over the past week between their own training to collective training has been hard on their bodies and we’ve lost a couple of them to several-week injuries, which in a season that is so condensed it’s devastating both on them and us and there are others carrying knocks that are now having to be managed.”

A trained physiotherapist, Tyrone’s three-time All-Ireland winner said his medical team saw the injuries “coming down the tracks” and believed Croke Park could have lobbied more forcefully to get games back up in running instead of squeezing everything so tightly.

Hurling, ironically, opted for a three-week run-in instead of four so that another competitive game could be pencilled in for their league campaigns.

“Our physio has been annoyed, all the evidence pointed to it, everybody knew about it,” McGinley added.

“I remember the GAA saying last year that six weeks wasn’t long enough [for pre-season] because of the huge spike in insurance cases.

“And this year they pulled out of somewhere that four weeks was plenty. That has been hard to stomach. I think the GAA, by and large, has really done well in handling the whole thing, especially last year.

“But this year I’m not sure what’s going on because there seemed to be a real change in emphasis compared to stuff that was coming out last year in terms of safety of outdoor play and the need for games.

“There was a wall of silence and no real lobbying at all for the [return of] games [by the GAA]. It’s hard to criticise anyone in a pandemic because it’s unchartered waters but looking at the players and the impact on their bodies it’s far from ideal.”

Former Armagh player Oisin McConville accused the GAA of not “throwing a punch” on behalf of its members to get games back up and running earlier.

In a recent press briefing, new GAA President Larry McCarthy insisted the Association's top brass were putting their case for a return to the Irish Government.

“The science says there is less damage about kids being back so are we pushing for it? Yes, we are,” McCarthy said earlier this month.

Meanwhile, McGinley is expected to retain veterans Paddy Cunningham, Mick McCann and Mark Sweeney while Portglenone's Niall McKeever, Creggan's Ruairi McCann, Cargin's Pat Shivers and Aghagallon's Adam Loughran are currently involved in the training panel.

“There’s a bit of bite to training, there are boys there that feel they really have to perform and if they are feeling a bit sore they’re trying to drive on,” McGinley noted.

“It’s a really horrible situation for players to be in and you feel very responsible for that as a manager. You’re gutted when players are picking up injuries that you know they’re going to be carrying for a few months.

“It’s not a comfortable position for me at all to be in. At the same time you’re trying to make calls on players. You’d prefer to be making calls on players over a longer period of time to see how they respond to coaching, video analysis and only then will you reveal a player’s potential.

“You just can’t do that, but every manager is in the same situation,” added the Errigal Ciaran man. “It’s difficult to be cutting players after a short space of time, but that’s the nature of county panels, it has to be done.”

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