There seems to be a rite of passage in the GAA that you're nobody until you've driven at least three nights a week from to Dublin to the likes of Cork or Donegal for training, gotten back home at 1am, only to then drag yourself out of bed again at 6am for an hour in the gym before work...
The average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night. An athlete – as sports medicine specialist, David Geier, MD, points out – needs even more:
Just as athletes need more calories than most people when they're in training, they need more sleep, too. You're pushing your body in practice, so you need more time to recover.
A professional footballer will indeed sleep more than the recommended hours. In fact many take naps every day on top of their night's sleep.
Cathal O'Gaacommitment on the other hand; well he's lucky if he gets four and a half hours kip.
Now before everyone flies off the handle, this isn't a criticism of GAA players' commitment. In fact the dedication they show in spite of the need to, ye know, build a professional life for yourself, is indeed staggering but to think that a top amateur player can be as committed to their sport as a top professional player is ridiculous.
Yes, there are countless GAA players who give 100% of what they can give to their sport but the important part of that sentence is 'what they can give.'
I think that when we're all finished hanging Stephen Hunt out to dry there's a serious question at the heart of all this, which is 'At what point is a GAA player asked to give too much?'
The ending of Interstellar makes more sense than Stephen Hunt's writing today...rest less therefore less committed?? #GAA #YouWanSome #Hunty
— Ciarán Lenehan (@CiaranLen) November 30, 2014
Former Meath footballer Ciarán Lenehan – who ironically was one of those to give out about Hunt's piece on Twitter – told Off The Ball last Saturday that he missed every lecture of an entire module in college because he had instructions from his dietitian that he needed to eat a big meal at 4pm in advance of county training that night.
We have a tendency to romanticise these kinds of stories to the point that even Patrick Kavanagh at his most smitten would be forced to say 'Hang on a minute here.'
Lenehan, thankfully for his own sake, passed the exam anyhow and is now studying for a pHD but many GAA players are left burdening more lasting long term consequences because of their 'commitment.'
Aside from the professional impact, when we look at the physical consequences of the type of life our top GAA athletes are living it puts all the scoffing at Stephen Hunt's talk of 'rest' into perspective.
Dr Niall Moyna led a study in DCU which looked at player burnout within in the GAA. The results were extremely worrying and a year on, one would have to wonder what has been done to arrest this problem?
Here's a little taster of what Moyna found:
When you undertake strenuous exercise, you damage your muscles and there are certain little proteins in your muscles that leak into the blood. We can measure them in the blood. The average values for that protein in a person should be between 38 and 174. We had two guys in that study who were above 2,000. This is before the game even started. The average before we even started was above the upper limits of normal.
The consequences? Kidney failure is a real risk to begin with and he also adds...
There’s something called Rhabdomyolysis that can cause death if it’s very serious. It happens to troops who march for long periods and two players [were at risk]. If you took the average blood level of the average U21, Sigerson and inter-county, instead of the upper range being about 174, I would expect it to be about 800.
It's simple really. The three pillars of any fitness regime – whether it's someone doing a couch to 5k or someone trying to win an All Ireland title – are exercise, rest and nutrition. At what point does the plausible commitment a GAA player can give to his sport become implausible? How long can we continue to ignore the 'rest' aspect within the GAA?
When we do take it into account, then, and only then can a GAA player truly be fully committed to their sport.