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Inter-county GAA players drink less than other men - but engage in 'potentially hazardous' drinking in the off season

The ESRI says that the commitment levels required for inter-county players could have a knock on effect on their education and careers.

Image: Shutterstock/jjmtphotography

MALE INTER-COUNTY GAA players drink less than men of the same age generally do, but engage in “potentially hazardous drinking” during the off-season.

And nine in ten inter-county players engaged in such hazardous drinking when the season is over, according to new research published today by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on player welfare among GAA players.

The ESRI said that when compared with the general male population, GAA players drank alcohol less frequently. However, there was “substantial variation” across the season with GAA players much more likely to drink during the off-season and pre-season. 

“Furthermore, when alcohol consumption did take place, the study highlighted that players consumed higher quantities relative to the general male population of similar age,” the ESRI researchers said. “Again, this is particularly the case during pre-season and the off-season.”

This latest ESRI study follows previous research last year that led to the suggestion that the GAA should appoint a national figure overseeing the demands placed on young players in the game. 

The research is based on a survey answered from a field of 1,037 male players who participated in senior inter-county GAA in 2016. It didn’t include female athletes.

Education and work

Male inter-county players are far more likely to have a university degree than other men at the same age, with one in four of them choosing a career path after secondary school that would facilitate them to play at that level.

In all, 61% of inter-county players have a university degree compared with 35% of the general male population of the same age. 

However, half of players who chose their career path to boost their chances at inter-county level wouldn’t select that same career path again according to the research. 

Four in every five players said that they had difficulty balancing the demands of studying and playing during their third-level course. 16% of them either dropped out of a course or had to miss a year, while 80% missed college lecturers, classes or labs. 

The ESRI team who conducted the study said: “The research in the current study has shown that although the inter-county games are amateur sports, many players are allowing them to dictate their career path.

If the commitments associated with playing the senior inter-county games continue to intensify, demands may be higher now and may continue to rise in the future.

The research also highlights how being an inter-county player affects their earnings. The ESRI said some players are selecting sectors of employment with lower levels of working hours, in particular public sector jobs with “education” being the main public sector area in which players are employed.

“While this may assist players to meet the demands required to play senior inter-county, the research revealed that there is a trade-off in terms of earnings,” it said.

Over four in five (83%) of players said their job needed to be flexible to allow them to play at senior inter-county level.

When compared to the general male population of the same age, lower numbers of GAA players earned €625 or more a week from their job. 

Supports

Aside from drinking alcohol, there was also some evidence – based on the responses from those who participated in the survey – that gambling is common among inter-county players. 

Many players, meanwhile, took supplements with players citing recommendation from their team as the most common reason. 

“The research found that while teams recommended supplement use, only just over half of players stated that supplement intake was monitored within their county set up,” it said. 

In terms of supports, players said areas they think need improving are supports in their professional career and keeping their inter-county participation in perspective. 

The researchers warned that the pressures on inter-county players in terms of the time and commitment required may cause further problems in future.

“Ultimately, unless the drivers that are giving rise to the current inter-county commitment levels required from players are identified and addressed, the knock on education, professional career and other effects identified in this study are likely to be amplified among future generations of players,” it said.

One needs to bear in mind at all times that this is in the context of Gaelic games being amateur sports.

‘A valuable resource’

Reacting to the study, Gaelic Players Association CEO Paul Flynn said: “As we strive for a modern form of sustainable amateurism where players understand the importance of their career outside of the game, and how to balance this with their inter-county commitments, this information is hugely beneficial.

The report also underlines the need for a robust range of player development supports from the GPA.  It shows us there is a growing need for more education and information for players about their roles and responsibilities as inter-county players, particularly around supplement usage and alcohol consumption.

GAA president John Horan said: “There is a significant amount of time invested and commitment made by our inter-county players. Previous feedback from the playing population was extremely useful and likewise, this report will assist our approach to player welfare on and off the field.”

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Sean Murray

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