League games so intense they're now mimicking championship: Fennelly
OFFALY boss Michael Fennelly believes that the demands of Allianz League hurling have increased so greatly that games are now mimicking the championship.
With so much recent debate centring on spending by county boards on their inter-county teams, and the time pressures associated with sport at that level, the former Kilkenny star says that players at the top level need greater support amid the growing demands.
“For the county season, players are back in October, November doing their own work. The players need time off – when is the time off now?
“The club finishes in September or October and you're back straight into the county setup, mentally and physically. November is the minimum time you'd need back, most are back before that, and you're going from then until August, it's flat out.
“When you go back to the club it's very busy, you're expected to be back at a high intensity and a high drive, there's not really a lot of downtime for inter-county players.
“League is very important, I love it and get very excited seeing it, but the game demands are now mimicking the championship. In the last two or three games in the league, they're measuring up close to championship.
“That itself is kind of frightening, some players are getting up to those levels of fitness and intensity already without having the required pre-season maybe.”
Fennelly says that more must be done to support players in meeting the demands of playing inter-county hurling and football.
The Ballyhale native, who won eight All-Ireland titles with his county and another five with his club, was involved in a small focus group that was commissioned last year after the release of the ESRI report on the demands made on players.
While he says that management is “much more time consuming” than playing ever was for him, Fennelly believes the GAA must be more open with the GPA in relation to the issues players are facing.
“I was involved in a small group after the ESRI report came out to try and come up with an action plan that would help and support players in any way the GPA.
“It's small things like collective gym sessions, and that is happening at the moment in fairness. It's trying to make sure every team has GPS units to try and track load and prevent injuries, and other areas as well.
“Trying to help players get the balance right, because as you see there's a lot of players stepping away from the inter-county scene because of the commitment.
“It's hard on family life, it's hard with work because you're maybe not living around that area any more and your hours are long.
“I don't think people want inter-county players stepping away from it and it becoming unattractive, because that's the way it will go if we don't try to support them as best we can, and try to come up with a calendar year that's good for everyone.
“There's a lot of areas that the GPA will be hopefully working on more, and hopefully the GAA starts being a bit more open with them and seeing that there are issues there.
“I don't think they see the issues, yet from all the reports that have been done, there's loads of them there.”
He believes that bringing everything inside the calendar year is critical for players.
“The calendar year is so long. There's matches in December now in terms of the Kehoe Cup and those competitions. It's a chance for players to showcase themselves to a manager and in my case, obviously, I was a new manager so players are eager to play.
“It's great for me to see it, but this is December 1, where players are only back two or three weeks. Then you've the league kicking off very early at the start of January.
“You have a number of games during the league very week, then they're back with their clubs for a few weeks and then into a heavy schedule of championship games, some of them weeks in a row.
“You need to train three nights a week, the gym side of things is important too, and you probably do get more gain from a collective gym session than players doing it individually.
“It's difficult getting the balance. But players are in college, heading to Dublin and places like that. Rural counties maybe don't have an industry so they have to travel away and you're trying to get them to come back up and partake in the county setup.
“The Fitzgibbon is still not right where it is. The club has been brought back to January, which is a plus, but we need it brought on back before Christmas.
“That only interferes with four clubs at the moment so it's not a major issue for most, but I would like to see them played in one calendar year. That would help more than anything.”