The hectic G.A.A schedule this time of year sees inter-county players reach top-conditioning even before the summer months. Between Fitzgibbon and Sigerson cups, under 21 competitions, inter-county duties not to mention club commitments, it goes without saying that the responsibilities of an inter-county player can be perceived to be excessive from time to time.
With the recent Championship restructure, more games will now be played, an aspect of the G.A.A which many fans were vehemently demanding.
However, one underlying aspect of the games ever precedes: down-time for the inter-county players. Many former players have recently spoken passionately with regard to the various drinking bans and various other restrictions that were put in place during their time as an inter-county player. Kieran Bergin, the former Tipperary hurler and footballer, recently spoke with the Irish Daily Star. Bergin expressed his dismay surrounding the level of dedication required in modern-day inter-county G.A.A:
“The level of commitment they are asking is basically give up drink for the entire year.”
Furthermore, Bergin believes that there is a stark comparison ever-present between the worlds of professional sports and Gaelic Games with regard to alcohol. Bergin’s irritation is expressed with the use of Rugby players as an example:
“Rugby players, I know they are full time. They can afford to go to the sauna and sweat it (alcohol) out of them.”
Tomás Ó Sé also had his say on the matter. He believes that there is a conflicting and paradoxical culture within the life of an inter-county player, insofar as that:
“You train to be as close as you can to an elite athlete, then do the equivalent of taking a sledgehammer to your body two or three times a season.”
Tomás also availed of an example from the professional realm of sport. Many of his Nemo Rangers team-mates would have had close ties with former Cork City soccer player Damien Delaney, who now plays with Premier League side Crystal Palace. Tomás recalls of a night out in which one of his team mates went to visit Damien:
“the boys went out together after a Palace game and my buddy said Damien had a single glass of wine with his dinner. After that, they went to a club where Damien nursed a single vodka before slipping off home long before everybody else.”.
I agree with Tomás’ analysis of the stark comparison between the professional world and amateur world of sport:
“That’s the difference. He might do that every single week and it’s not going to harm him in the slightest. A GAA county man might go socialising three times in six months but, every time he does, it’s like Armageddon for his vital organs.”
It almost seems as if inter-county players are being held captive for much of their lives. Once a goal is achieved, it appears the sheer antithesis of all the training regimes and endless hours of preparation is engaged in.
Eddie Brennan, an eight-time All-Ireland hurling winner, believes that drinking bans “can lead to binge drinking and fellas going off the rails after being wound up so tight.”
Brennan recites his own time as a player and explained that there was more of a Laissez-faire attitude towards alcohol under the reign of Brian Cody:
“When I played for Kilkenny, Brian (Cody) trusted us enough to have a couple of pints at a suitable time.” he stated.
With all the above considered, it is safe to say that with the addition of multiple games in the summer, managers’ discretion of when to and when not to allow players to delve into the multi-faceted realm of intoxication. Manager’s decisions will prove pivotal for the longevity and sustainability for both their players and Gaelic Games as a whole.