‘More games, more pressure, more stress, so I would suspect those figures are not accurate’

FORMER HURLER OF the Year Michael Fennelly believes players are putting even more time into their inter-county commitments than the figures revealed in the recent ERSI study.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

On Tuesday, the report jointly commissioned by the GPA and GAA in 2016 found that inter-county players were spending up to 31 hours per week in some cases on their sport, sacrificing family, sleep and downtime. 

Fennelly, who retired from Kilkenny duty at the end of 2017 duty due to injuries, says that figure may have increased in the two years since the players were surveyed. The inter-county season was condensed this year while more games were introduced into the hurling and football championships.

“They were saying (up to) 31 hours and a few years ago I was asked that question and I would always say ’25 hours’ off the cuff without even properly calculating it,” Fennelly says.

“25 is a lot and now they’re saying 31 – and that was done in 2016. From last year’s fixtures, in terms of the amount of game-time, that has definitely increased.

“More games, more pressure, more stress, so I would suspect that those figures are not accurate. Whatever it is at the moment it’s definitely higher, without a doubt. The fixture list last year, I remember seeing it from the Kilkenny players and other players around the county – the demand is that they’re on the go 24/7 now.

“Normally, you’d get a week off with your club, that’s how the fixtures used to be after a championship game. You’re back with them and you’re kind of on a little bit of a down with your club and you’re chilled out. You might get a social night out – whatever it may be.

Michael Fennelly was speaking at the unveiling of the 2018 Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Team of the Year

Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

“A bit more time to yourself and your family. But that didn’t really happen this year and the players are on the go 24/7. The gym is getting more emphasis as well because you want to prevent injuries and get stronger, build your skill level. And then obviously in the league, if you keep going in the league week-on-week you’re really just making life that much harder for the county players.”

Speaking at the launch of the study in Croke Park earlier this week, GAA President John Horan advocated the introduction of a performance director to regulate the commitments placed on leading footballers and hurlers. 

But Fennelly feels it may be difficult to police, given players are often handed individual programmes to work on away from the group environment.

“To be fair, you only train about two times a week normally. Then you have the gym, an hour yourself. There could then be a second gym, physio, rehab. It’s not all collective sessions.

“Recovery is going to be important – in terms of getting to the gym or getting on the bike. For me, Kilkenny was never always face-to-face stuff the whole time, there was individual stuff that players do.

“I know with other county teams perhaps there is an issue with a lot of face time, a lot of collective sessions and maybe a rule there would help. I know the NFL have gone from one extreme to another.

“Colleges over there where you can only have so many hours with a team. What managers do there, though, is that they say, ‘I want you doing this’. So even if they’re not physically on the field, they’re still going drill exercises. Where does it end? I don’t know.

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“The year needs to be shorter for the players cause they’re probably starting too soon. They want to get a head-start every year and November is probably the latest that players are going back to do training sessions and mentally that’s the time to switch off.

“It’s the time to chill out, you always look forward to it and to do stuff for individually for yourself. I don’t know where it’s going to stop.”

John Kiely celebrates with his Limerick backroom team after their All-Ireland final victory

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He also feels the costs of funding inter-county teams will keep rising over the coming years as the size of backroom teams continue to swell.

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“You need qualified people in there. You need sports psychologists in there. I think that’s going to play a bigger part in years to come. The physical well being, the mental well being of the person.

“But that’s more money, I think the county boards can invest more money into the qualified people. Sports nutritionists, you have them on part-time – I think Kerry have them on full-time.

“Try to look after the well being of the player but at the same time, you’re still switched on. Your nutrition you’re planning that. Your sleep, you’re planning that. You’re like a robot sometimes and that’s hard to sustain that over long periods you need to have that time.

“Recovery is going to be a big aspect of that and they do have to be a collective session for that but you’re expected to be in your recovery. I think the players want to perform to their best.

“You have to get it done, the players are highly motivated. Do you ban November and December altogether? The fixtures are an issue because there are more games now and the league is still there and then the two of them are the same now. The format for the league is similar for what happens in Leinster and Munster. It’s a bit much.”

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