Uncertain Future For The GAA's Heartland
So it's official now.
Inter county GAA players could hold down another job with the time they are devoting to bidding for All Ireland Glory.
ESRI research commissioned by the GAA and the GPA shows the contemporary picture but also raises some worrying issues around where the line is now for amateur players in terms of their commitment.
It may come as no surprise to many to learn players can spend up to 31 hours per week on their senior inter-county commitments and compromise on other aspects of their lives to do so
The study shows players, particularly those aged over 30, compromised on their personal relationships and general downtime in order to ring-fence time for their inter-county commitments.
The findings reveal players spent just over six hours per day on these commitments on a pitch-based training day.
Also 40 per cent did not have any time off from Gaelic games in 2016.
Players aged 18 to 21 had particularly high levels of time commitment because the majority played with four or more teams.
Players compromised on sleep, with almost half not getting the eight to ten hours recommended for athletes on a pitch-based training day.
The injury rate was higher among players getting seven or less hours sleep.
Players’ mental wellbeing was poorer than that of the general population, especially when compared to those of a similar age.
Suboptimal sleep may be contributing to their poorer mental wellbeing, although players also reported inter-county stresses such as finding the time commitments to be too much, that too much effort was demanded of them and that time away from family and friends was a downside of playing at this level.
At first glance it appears that players are maintaining their professional careers in tandem with playing senior inter-county, devoting an average of 7.9 hours to their professional commitments on a pitch-based training day during the championship.
However, this was achieved only by cutting back on time for personal relationships, sleep and general relaxation.
Regardless of age, the main reason players have for withdrawing from the game was that they wanted to focus on their professional career.
These findings show the level of commitment needed today, and coupled with a major problem facing the GAA and Ireland in general, indicate we are heading into an incredibly uncertain future for the games.
The heartland of where the players are fashioned is itself under threat due to rural depopulation.
If you drive from Balbriggan to Belmullet the level of business closures, flight from the land and general run down nature of many communities is a real concern.
This will reduce the available players for rural clubs and if there are no jobs, the very existence of these clubs will be threatened which in turn will undermine the county structure and the very nature of the games themselves.
Whats needed is a new Ireland fund, similar to what served Northern Ireland so well over the years.
In the case of Tipperary one community leader is beginning his own campaign to turn the tide.
If we don't have some international fund to support communities, to provide the players, to be the lifeblood of the Association and create jobs regionally to maintain the fabric of Ireland, I shudder to think where we will end up.