Not all GAA stars prepare like Olympians

Not all GAA stars prepare like Olympians

AS several inter-county footballers pack their bags for the US, Jerry Kiernan might be forgiven an uncharitable thought.

Kiernan, in case you’ve forgotten, caused uproar earlier this year by questioning many GAA players’ fitness and dedication.

His point was undermined by how much he exaggerated, how biased he sounded and his failure to recognise the enormous social benefit the games bring.

Then again, many of those involved in the backlash attacked with similar nastiness; no honour was gained by the personal nature of the verbal assaults on a man who, after all, was once among the top 10 marathon runners on the planet.

This column sympathises with Laois people who take their football seriously.

They must have felt their heroes had turned a corner last year by running Dublin close in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

Now, the departures of Brendan Quigley, Kevin Meaney and Gary Walsh to the States deepen the pain of having been dismantled on their home pitch by Louth.

They were already without Cahir Healy, one of the very best defenders in Leinster, because he opted to play hurling this season.

Factor in Zach Tuohy’s success in Melbourne and similar stories, and Laois could almost argue that they have a better team of unavailable players than that which will take the field for the first round of the qualifiers.

You would feel particularly sorry for the likes of Ross Munnelly, excellent as usual in that Louth match.

Munnelly had the makings of a football superstar in the middle part of the decade behind us, and though he has not lost his abilities, he is now part of a team of also-rans rather than the one that made three Leinster finals in a row and could have won them all.

How frustrating it must be for him to watch his chances of returning to the main stage dwindle as three of his better teammates pack serious football in for another season.

And yet we are in no position to criticise those who choose to go.

Football is not a job but a hobby, an ultra-serious, massively time and energy-consuming hobby, we grant you, but something done in players’ spare time nonetheless.

For many people, living in a foreign country, particularly in your 20s, is an experience not to be missed — having someone else pay for it is a rare opportunity.


And aside from the understandable desire for adventure, who knows what’s going on in a given footballer’s life — perhaps some of them simply need the cash.

But here’s the rub: you can’t take that rational live-and-let-live attitude to players abandoning football for the summer and also jump down the throat of anyone who might dare suggest that not every inter-county player prepares to the same level as an Olympic hopeful.

FITNESS TEST: Former Olympic marathon runner Jerry Kiernan was criticised for questioning GAA players' commitment to training. FITNESS TEST: Former Olympic marathon runner Jerry Kiernan was criticised for questioning GAA players' commitment to training.

Some terribly overblown mythologising of footballers’ commitment goes on. The truth, we reckon, is that the best footballers — and the footballers on the best teams — take their preparations to a level comparable to those of professional athletes.

As Joe Brolly put it recently, while talking about why Galway were so far off Mayo, to compete for Sam Maguire, you must make Gaelic football your life.

But we can’t believe that every footballer on every county panel — or even most of them — are willing or able to do so.

That is not to belittle the commitment they give — but it is to say that there is another level of commitment out there, the type that brings home a plethora of medals from Minsk.

To reach those levels in sports such as boxing, where you are competing with the rest of the world rather than the rest of a small island on Europe’s periphery, is another level of devotion and obsession, one that we suspect only the very best Gaelic footballers could match.

Put it this way: how many Olympic hopefuls would ditch the most important competition they play in for a summer of travel, fun and the lash?

We should stand up for our footballers and the contribution they make to Irish life.

That should not include pretending that every player from Laois to Antrim to Waterford is training like a world-class boxer or cyclist or middle-distance runner.

As Jerry Kiernan would tell you, exaggeration simply undermines your argument; and the truth about our amateur heroes and voluntary organisation is impressive enough as it is.