College GAA players need an intervention. Now!

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Player burnout is a serious issue amongst young GAA players and the cohort of players most in danger of this affliction are college going inter-county players!

There are a number of factors that contribute to this. Number one on this list is the sheer number of teams that they play for at this age.

Take Diarmuid O’Connor as a classic example of someone in this boat. The newly crowned Young Player of the Year will more than likely be picked to play for Connacht in the Interprovincial Championships in two weeks time.



This will be the sixth team he has represented this calendar year, the others being Mayo (Senior and Under 21), Ballintubber (Senior and U21) and DCU (Sigerson Cup). If you break it down further, in terms of competitions he has played in, the number is closer to twelve.

To give some context, O’Connor’s 2015 season actually started in September 2014. This is when he began training with DCU in preparation for their upcoming league campaign and it still hasn’t finished; yet his 2016 season is already underway.

This time of year, September to March, is the worst period for any young elite GAA player in terms of workload. While O’Connor was training for DCU in preparation for the league, O’Byrne and Sigerson Cups, he was also winning the 2014 county championship for his club and representing them in the Connacht championship at the same time as their U21 championship was being contested, all the while gearing up for the beginning of the inter-county U21 and senior season. There is no two ways about it, that is a dangerous workload and it is unheard of in any other sport in the world!

In an interview in the GPA’s new student website Diarmuid gave this insight in to balancing student and football life:

The nights you’d have to travel home for training are tough, you might have to miss a lecture to get home in time and then you’d get back to Dublin late so that’s tough on the sleeping patterns.

This is a worrying statement when you consider that Diarmuid is not alone. This is a quote that would be repeated by players from Wexford all the way to Donegal and back if they were asked.

This is even more worrying when one delves in to the GPA’s Student Report ‘Never Enough Time’ which claims that 40% of student county players surveyed stated that they have had to repeat exams in college and 14% have had to repeat an entire academic year. This is considerably higher than data from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), which revealed a less than 6% repeat rate across all third level students in Ireland. This is clearly attributable to the overbearing workload being placed on our young stars of tomorrow.

I can hear you ask “Why don’t these guys say ‘To hell with the college. I have too much on my plate already and I have no affinity to this setup anyway!'” and it’s a valid question to ask. The simple answer, in a lot of cases, is pure economics.

Before I elaborate, I will outline three more stats that were published in the same GPA report:

  • 55% of student county players indicated that they feel under pressure to represent their college
  • 50% report that they feel overwhelmed by their commitments
  • 55% are experiencing financial difficulties

These stats tell you all you need to know. Basically, if you mash these three stats together and summarise – over half of college players would prefer not to play for their college as they have an overloaded schedule but they feel under pressure, financially, to do so. For some of these players, scholarships are the only way that they can afford to go to college. They can’t afford to concentrate solely on their club and county commitments. Their club or county isn’t going to give them subsidised accommodation and a few bob to cover groceries and other expenses. Something has to give in terms of early year competitions and unless these players are going to be given local scholarships then it’s not going to be the Sigerson Cup.

Later in the same interview mentioned above O’Connor stated:

Yeah definitely. Going home during the week to train in Mayo puts pressure on your college work and even getting enough sleep, but I do enjoy doing it and I know I’m very lucky to get to play for Mayo and to have the opportunities I have in college.

But should it have to be a situation where to play for Mayo and go to college in Dublin needs to be such a sacrifice? Should these players need to travel home a few times a week? Is there no solution that can be reached whereby these players can be better protected from the dangers of player burnout?

Don’t forget that player burnout is not only physical but mental fatigue which results in a significant drop in performance on and off the pitch. Diarmuid is expected to put in 30+ hours of lectures in a week, with assignments and study on top and then play as much football as I have outlined above. Not forgetting that in the heat of his busy season he also has to sit six tough exams each January in order to progress academically.

How can a guy like that sustain that schedule over four years and NOT suffer from some degree of burnout? It’s almost unfathomable but let’s hope for the sake of Mayo that his managers are responsible enough to minimise his workload as much as possible.

So, in summary, I have outlined the awful hardships that college GAA players must go through in order to represent their counties. I hope Diarmuid won’t mind that I used him as an example throughout but it’s important that we personify this issue in order for people to really empathise with it. Nobody cares about numbers; we do care about people like Diarmuid.

In my follow-up blog post that I’ll be doing here soon, I’ll give you my take on some of the solutions that are offering to coaches of players who play on multiple teams. Before I do this, though, I would love if you could post your personal suggestions to solve the problem in the comments. As well as this, I would love to hear about your thoughts on some of the above and whether you agree or disagree with it all.

Dermot Daly is on Twitter @player_burnout and on Facebook as well as on the web at

11 thoughts on “College GAA players need an intervention. Now!

  1. Absolutely agree with your comments . it is a disgrace what is happening with these talented players. Hip, ankle and knee operations here they comw

  2. Absolutely thrilled that this has been highlighted at last. What’s going on is stone mad

    A couple of questions/suggestions:

    -Should a player be good enough to play senior, I would suggest that he is no longer eligible for u21. He is essentially regraded to senior level. For both club and county.
    -Is there really any need for the likes of the FBD league? Sometimes great for seeing newbies alright but is there need for established players to play in it?
    -is there really any need for a league semi and final?
    -Should Sigerson Cup only be for non inter county players?
    -this also goes on at underage. I frankly have no idea how some kids play in so many county finals. I coach soccer and some lads have county finals every second week! How many bloody competitions are there? I see the same prob at soccer. You should be graded at a certain age and that’s it. Not playing for 3, 4 and 5 different teams

    This all comes back to structure. It’s too all over the place with no rhyme nor reason to it. I have no idea how some of these lads have time to do anything else other than football

  3. Asking players to travel home to Mayo for training midweek whether for club or county, if this is being done, is absolute madness.
    I have long argued that U21 players should be allowed concentrate on U21 until that competition is over for them. There are plenty of over 21’s to be tried out in the NFL/FBD.

  4. College players are in huge demand because with careful time management they can tick many of the boxes that professional athletes and pro soccer/rugby lads get paid to do.

    Taking Pearse Hanley as an example. Had he remained here he would have been horsed between club, county and college. In Aussie rules he focused on one thing only, the team he was contracted to.

    Eventually the county team, thanks to SKY and media revenue and demand will pick a roster of 40 players exclusively for county use only. Rugby has already gone that way. The ST Mary’s, Terenures, Young Munsters etc became feeder clubs .

    The GAA and the various managerial stakeholders look to their own parish. Hence the Sigerson guy wants his slice but so does the club senior, maybe minor and definitely U21 managers . That’s crazy and many of those guys are autocrats. So what to do? Well here it becomes a personal choice. You can spread yourself until nothing is left or you can prioritise. Young guys and girls have to put their foot down and not leave it to some committee because that ain’t gonna happen.

  5. This problem can’t be solved bottoms-up by young lads facing up to the various team managers and refusing to play. These lads love to play.

    I suggest, restrict any player to one age grade. Restrict college teams to only use players who are not already committed to an inter county team. The remaining conflict then is club vs county, or club vs college for those not on an inter-county panel.

    This requires the various managers to give up some access to their star players. It will only happen by mandatory regulation… Or by professionalism I guess?

  6. The sigerson league just concluded last Wednesday night DCU reached the final and were well beaten by UCD. I followed the knock out stages (quarter,semi and final) Diarmuid O’Connor didn’t feature in any of those games is he injured or rested?

    I think one way of stopping burn out would be stop any county senior from playing college football. They already have U21 county which is more attractive and general public are more interested in seeing their county players win a title with their county than some college in Dublin or Cork.

  7. I had experience of trying to reduce the workload on young players. I simply requested they attend training but not partake as they already had far too much on their plates.
    Hopefully in the new setup our Dublin players will have less need to travel down and will have maybe Tony McEntee able to take training in Dublin? Surely Mayo can involve Mayo club footballers based in Dublin to fill out numbers. Get a pitch rented.
    Of even more importance in training is the pre and post training routine. A 3 hour car journey pre and post training ruins the effectiveness of that training. You would be better staying in Dublin, sticking on the dinner and sitting down to watch telly. It has already been proven disrupted sleep patterns increases injury risk so that is very concerning.
    1. Has to be a further reduction in how many teams a player can represent.
    2. Reduce the number of competitions. Colleges league and FBD have to go.
    3. GPA setup a grant system for young players that they can attend College free of the obligations of playing Sigerson or Freshers.
    4. Make College football non-inter county at Freshers and Sigerson level.
    5. Senior inter count players cannot play U21. Frankly scrap inter count U21 it is just in a linear manner creating injuries.
    6. Make the minor series championship only with no backdoor or quarter finals. There are too many games.
    7. Make all GAA at all levels extra time in event of a draw. It immediately causes fixture backlogs when games are drawn.
    8. Make club senior 19 and above. You have to be 19 to play club senior.
    9. Make inter county 20 and above. You have to be 20 to play inter county.
    10. Make a clear Club window of games and clear county window of games.
    11. Give inter county players and unbroken 4 week run into their first championship game. This applies in each county so no one has any advantage.
    12. Apply just like in the NFL in America strictly enforeced limits on training days.

  8. That is an excellent piece on the stress and strain young players are being put under and the urgent need for measures to be taken to protect them.
    Here in Westmeath, I have a grandson, only 14 and still only a bit of a lad. But he plays for the local Gaa football Club at under 14 and under 16. He does the same for the soccer Club. On top of that he pays for the school team and the County. No wonder he always looks worn out.

  9. The sports science on overload is fairly compelling. I heard a radio piece on it maybe a year ago and there’s a blood parameter they use to monitor recovery. Some of these lads record 8 to 10 times the recommended level. The height they can jump is reduced by 10% and their performance drops in all competitions. Sports is also about psychology so reduced performance affects confidence. Well done on posting this piece.

  10. Jaysus lads weren’t Kerry training lad’s in Dublin in the 70s so they wouldn’t be making long trips down and back and that’s almost 40 years ago.

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