Limerick football manager Billy Lee
THERE is much talk about what learnings the GAA can take from two seasons dominated by Covid-19.
Of course, it’s not even mid-way through year two but some have suggested there is no need for the protracted pre-season or even pre-season competitions.
Depends very much who is talking – in both hurling and football most of the top inter-county set-ups are well oiled machines and will role seamlessly role from one season to the next unless there is a change of management.
Strength and conditioning, diet/nutrition are second nature to these inter-county players and even the top players and clubs across the county.
But step away from the inter-county elite.
Just not workable according to Limerick senior football manager Billy Lee.
“You definitely need a lead-up. Coming out of the club scene the big buzz word that you hear is loading that is pushed on lads to get up to standard. If you do that in a short space of time their bodies, especially newer lads, aren’t able for it and they will get injuries,” explains Lee.
He would debate the issue with anyone saying otherwise.
”They are not into the detail of trying to prepare teams and ensure that you are not crippling them with injuries. To me the biggest opportunity in the GAA is that the championship doesn’t need to be as drawn out. We can play seven league games in nine weeks. Why not shorten up the championship and give back to the clubs,” asks Lee.
Limerick play knockout championship this Saturday in what will be the 10th week of their season – they played their first league tie after four weeks pre-season.
"The devil is always in the detail," explains Lee.
"The lead-in is essential to manage players and to develop new players in challenge matches. It has been really difficult. In normal seasons you would have a couple of pre-season matches and challenge matches and you are able to give lads a game to see where they are at.
"What we were left with was one challenge match to try and judge everything. You are bringing lads in to give them a shot and let them see what is involved from a strength and conditioning point of view, technical and tactical point of view and all are trying to get all that done but with no matches other than competitive matches.”
For Limerick and many others league is everything.
“They were very important matches for us. Any county where the league is most important - maybe more important than championship and there are many counties like that - then it all became very difficult for us because the leading lights can try fellas and they know they might not lose status.
"For counties like us those games in the league were hugely important. The league definitely matters - the games were huge and opportunities were few and far between for lads because of the fact that they didn’t have a chance to show their wares to us because we weren’t able to play challenges.”
The jump from club to inter-county wont be as big for the leading GAA lights but using Limerick football as an example the possibility of moving from the club scene straight into an inter-county senior team in one jump appears unlikely – not including those from properly functioning academy set-ups. And Limerick is not alone – this is at least half the football counties and all bar a handful of hurling counties.
So any talk of a continuing with a much shorter pre-season or indeed that the likes of the McGrath Cup play no role would merely benefit the stronger and inhibit the potential for sustained progress by those down the pecking order.
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