New GAA Director-General needs to consider segregating club and county seasons: Antrim's Ciaran Johnston
ANTRIM hurler Ciaran Johnston says there’s a huge onus on the GAA and the new Director-General to find a solution to the fixtures calendar to help avoid burn-out.
Just 23, the St John’s man has taken an enforced break from the inter-county scene this year because of a hip injury that has plagued him for a few seasons.
Johnston claims the prevalence of hip injuries in the GAA was reaching “epidemic” proportions and that segregating the county and club fixtures programmes was the way forward.
“Hip injuries have become a bit of an epidemic in the GAA,” said Johnston.
“I needed to address it now. I knew I wasn’t 100 per cent going in to games because I was feeling pain. I was taking painkillers before games so I knew I had to take a break at some point.
“It was probably borne out of stubbornness that I wanted to play the games.”
Johnston feels the training-to-games ratio needs rebalancing and cited Brian Neeson’s decision to chose soccer over Gaelic football because there was too much training and not enough games in the latter.
“It’s something that needs addressed at Congress,” Johnston insisted.
“The new Director-General coming in needs to look at close seasons or segregated seasons [of club and county].
“You hear people talking about the GAA calendar but one year rolls into the next. If you’re 18 and you’re playing Mageean or MacRory Cup and then you’re playing minors, U21s... And if you decide to play both football and hurling, which we do, it’s never-ending.
“In the GAA we have 10 sessions to one game. I think [Cliftonville goalkeeper] Brian Neeson alluded to that in a recent interview. The calendar needs addressed.”
The trainee solicitor also highlighted the difficulty in GAA players partaking in proper recovery sessions.
“We’re an amateur organisation and people have jobs to do so you don’t always have the time to recover. I’ve a few friends that play professional soccer and they do their recovery and get their massages. We, in the GAA, train like maniacs and then go and do our day job.”
Johnston plays both hurling and football and admits that he probably wouldn’t have tweaked a lot of things in his career even though he’s had to temporarily step away from Antrim duty because of a long-standing injury.
“I probably wouldn’t change anything that I’ve done, to be honest, because I’ve had so much enjoyment and fond memories and I’m only 23.
“I suppose you might do one or two things differently – you’d maybe sit out the odd game. But you always want to be playing.”
Johnston hopes taking a season out from Antrim will give him the time to recover and insists surgery is a last resort.
Pat Carton, a surgeon and Whitfield clinic in Waterford, told The Sunday Times that the age profile of young sports people requiring hip operations continues to drop.
"The youngest we've operated on is 14," said Carton. "We try not to operate on anybody under the age of 17, only in cases where guys are in severe pain. People don't realise how disabling this condition can get.
"You can't stoop forward. You can't tie your laces. You can't carry a schoolbag. You can't go for a fast walk. The psychological aspect is that is has an enormously depressive effect. A player is trying to make the grade and living with chronic injury that gets worse.
The Antrim hurlers will certainly miss Johnston’s versatility when they get their NHL Division 1B campaign under way against All-Ireland champions Galway next weekend.
“You never think you’ll miss pre-season training - and it sounds a wee bit sadistic – but you do miss it and the camaraderie,” he said.
“Even when I went over to The Dub to watch the McGurk final [last Saturday night between Antrim and Down], it was a dour enough night, you still want to be out playing.”