The ESRI report into life as an inter-county player is superb, supportive, surefooted and in the end, could be instrumental to the games’ survival.
The one thing it’s not… surprising.
The research paper, undertaken by Elish Kelly, Conor Keegan and Brendan Walsh, used data from a survey of 2016 players to examine how the demands of playing inter-county affect players’ personal and professional lives, and their club involvement.
Among the main findings of the report included:
- One in four players reported choosing a career path to facilitate playing senior inter-county.
- Over 40 per cent would not choose the same career path if given a second chance.
- Over 80 per cent reported difficulty in balancing student life with playing inter-county.
- Some players select employment sectors with fewer working hours which resulted in lower promotion prospects while also affecting players’ earnings.
- Inter-county players tend to consume higher quantities of alcohol with 90 per cent reportedly binge drinking regularly during the off-season.
- Nine out of ten players consume supplements. However, many source products from outside camp while only a little over 50 per cent indicated that supplement use is monitored.
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) December 17, 2019
Players also identified two key areas where they would like to receive more support – in their professional careers and keeping inter-county participation in perspective. They also specified the issues they would most like to change about their inter-county experience – a reduction in the playing season, fewer time commitments and the reintroduction of enjoyment.
When broken down, it’s a horrible indictment of our national games and is summed up perfectly in the ESRI report which states, “One needs to bear in mind at all times that this is in the context of Gaelic games being amateur sports.”
Did we really need an official report to let us know that information though? Probably not.
There are three elements that, while not in the slightest bit surprising, really hammer home issues that need addressing.
ESRI report on the runaway train
80% of players find it hard to balance work/college, home and training. Asked what they would change?.. in order 1. Length of season 2. Time commitment 3. Lack of enjoyment 4.personal time (lack of). Counties currently flat out training in Dec 🤦🏻♂️
— Tomás Ó Sé (@tomas5ky) December 17, 2019
The first comes in career choices.
Since the dawning of time, a large proportion of inter-county stars have worked within education. With shorter working days, a guarantee of weekends off and a holiday timetable tailor-made for the championship season it should really come as no surprise to see hard evidence that this is the case.
Who does this benefit? The answer is nobody. It may be ideal when it comes to sport but the hard truth is that teaching is a vocation, not just a job. You have to want to teach for the right reasons and judging by 40 per cent of inter-county players claiming they would choose differently if given the chance it’s clear many are doing it for the wrong reasons.
Teaching makes sense, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s not right for the player who is left with a void to fill once retirement hits and he’s stuck in a job he doesn’t love. It’s not right on the teacher with a proper love of education who is turned down for a role because ‘the other guy plays county’ (this definitely happens). Most importantly though, it’s not right on the children who deserve better during their formative years than someone whose only reason for teaching is that it suits his sporting endeavours.
The second is the beer.
The binge-drinking culture that apparently exists during the pre-season and the off-season, again, comes as no surprise. As a nation, we’ve long been associated with alcohol consumption and our ability to knock back a couple of jars.
The problem doesn’t lie in the stereotype. The demands placed on inter-county players feeds directly into the narrative that there is a binge-drinking culture. Players are kept on lockdown for nine months of the year. It’s not always the fault of the management team as in many cases, abstention is player-led.
Most are so afraid of word getting out that they’ve been on the booze, that even one pint of plain post league game is more often than not prohibited. They’re like caged animals for most of the year, so it comes as no surprise to see that most go buck-mental once the championship ends. The game is getting younger and younger, with fewer and fewer playing beyond the age of 30. What do you expect to happen when depriving a twenty-something-year-old of socialising for three-quarters of the year?
One in ten GAA players are liars…. pic.twitter.com/rm5vQz4bRm
— Ray Connellan (@ConnellanRay) December 17, 2019
Lastly, the lack of enjoyment is possibly the most damning thing to come out of this report.
What’s the point of playing a sport if it’s not enjoyable? Who else used to have a manager whose final words before going out were ‘make sure to enjoy it’? By the sounds of it, that is a sentiment that no longer rings around a changing room.
For the players themselves to highlight the “re-introduction of enjoyment” as something that needs to be addressed in order to improve life as an inter-county footballer is a damning assessment of the state of Gaelic games. Win, lose or draw enjoying the sport you love should rank above all.
Sure, everyone lives in the hope of lifting Sam Maguire or Liam MacCarthy but not many are ever going to experience it. The least they deserve for the time and effort put into representing their county is a period in their life that they can look back on and say: ‘I really enjoyed that.’
Managers, county boards, the GAA and the GPA should take stock of this report because, at the end of the day, we are dealing with amateur athletes. There are no contracts or signing bonuses, they do it for the love of the game. What happens if we take away that love?
Judging by this report, we could be about to find out.