by Charlie O'Neill
In the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of returning to coaching a feisty and passionate school GAA team in North Kerry.
These girls, ranging from 12-17 years of age, never fail to astound me with their knowledge and player-led approach to the game. I would go as far as to say that these girls and many more adolescent athletes are miles ahead of previous generations in understanding the extent of the mental and physical toll sport can take.
However, even with such positivity, the number of back-to-back days these young women train and play matches worries me. One such player confided in me of a panic attack she had just experienced in the dressing room after I subbed her off due to a niggling injury. She was visibly shaken with a sense that she had let the team down. The same girl went on to reveal that she had a basketball match the previous day and Kerry GAA trials early the next morning, before topping it off with an important soccer game hours later.
Does this sound all too familiar? The acknowledgement of player welfare and injury prevention has become a societal trend in Ireland in the adult game, amateur and professionals alike. But, to paraphrase The Simpsons, will someone please think of the children? What I learned in only our second school football game of the season was that the girls were exhausted, with no off-season in sight for them to rest and replenish.
While COVID played a role in the rush to fulfil sporting fixtures, those commendable adolescents who choose to compete in a combination of sports are struggling both physically and psychologically. A study conducted in 2015 by DCU in an Irish school found that 35.6% of multisport athletes are at risk of injury. Of those injured participants, 27.9% are at risk of sustaining another injury that school year, competing in a different sport.
The Irish Sport Council have adopted Player Welfare initiatives in recent years, but for adolescents at grassroots, access to psychologists or these processes are limited and usually at the discretion of local volunteers. Incidents of anxiety or panic attacks, like the one experienced by the player on our school team, are becoming all too common and can become chronic if not dealt with.
Munster’s Keith Earls candidly spoke about his mental health struggles in his new book. The accomplished winger experienced panic attacks from an early age that got progressively worse through grassroots well into his professional rugby career. Attending therapy in 2013 helped him to resolve his issues.
Although some pressure is self-inflicted, young athletes have no idea how to deal with it when the negative voice emerges.
Coaches and parents play an equal role in preventing mental fatigue by recognising its triggers and putting a plan in place to address it.
Irish sportspeople are no strangers to being hailed as all-round athletes. The upheaval of Irish talent now plotting their way in the AFL and AFLW is due to a culture of celebrating multisport competitiveness. Mayo's Sarah Rowe, for example, showed her capacity to play intercounty football and international soccer in the same calendar year before returning to her Collingwood squad. And don't forget Kieran Donaghy's desire to win national basketball titles while representing Kerry in the GAA.
With such success comes a goal-orientated routine. Competing in many sports has incredible advantages, once rest and recovery are prioritised for our young athletes.
Burnout results in many athletes becoming injured or, even worse, quitting their sport altogether. Gentle reminders to grassroots players that they can discuss their concerns with coaches and parents should be implemented.
If burnout is evident, such players should be allowed to step back with protocol for when they return to play, whether it’s injury-related or otherwise.
Charlie O'Neill is a Kerry-based sports writer with a keen interest in rugby, GAA and soccer. She currently plays for the Kerry women's rugby team and also coaches underage Gaelic football.
Fleming and Doherty top Killarney crew at Boggeragh
The Boggeragh Rallysprint, organised by Cork Motor Club and based in the forest complex of the same name, took place over the Christmas break.
Based near the village of Nad, the event attracted a strong 60-plus car entry and was won by West Cork driver David Guest and his Millstreet co-driver Liam Moynihan in a Ford Fiesta Rally 2. The latter is a member of Killarney and District Motor Club.
The first all-Killarney crew to make the finish were David Fleming and Kieran Doherty in their Honda Civic. The Killarney-based crew finished 20th overall on what was only their second time competing on a gravel rally.
World Rally Championship launch
The new Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid that Craig Breen and Paul Nagle will drive in this year’s World Rally Championship is set to be unveiled on Saturday in Austria.
The World Rally Championship will undergo major environmental changes this year when new technical regulations drive the series towards a more sustainable future.
The season launch takes place at Red Bull’s headquarters near Salzburg ahead of the first round of the WRC, next week’s Rallye Monte Carlo, as a new era for the sport dawns.
Breen and Nagle will be in attendance and the launch will be live streamed on WRC.com
Killarney Valley athletes rubbing shoulders with the best
Killarney Valley AC continued their upward curve last Sunday when they entered men’s and women’s teams in the prestigious National Indoor Track and Field Championships, which were held in Abbotstown in Dublin.
Despite going up against the best of the best in terms of Irish athletics, the Killarney Valley contingent gave a good account of themselves at the state-of-the-art National Indoor Arena, with coaches Tomás Griffin and Con Lynch coming away with plenty of positives to reflect upon.
The women’s team was comprised of Sarah Leahy, Ciara Kennelly, Alison Butler, Grace O’Meara, Ellen Moloney and Melissa Ahern, while the men’s team included Conor Gammell, Oisín Lynch, Kevin O’Callaghan, Sam Griffin, Jason O’Reilly, Dara Looney and Darragh O’Leary.
The nature of the team event presents a number of challenges and opportunities for the forward-thinking club, as coach Tomás Griffin explained to the Killarney Advertiser this week.
“The indoor league is senior elite level so you’re competing against really strong athletes, including some Olympians,” Griffin said. “Part of the criteria is that you try to cover as many of the events as you possibly can within all of the athletic disciplines. You compete as a team, as opposed to normal athletics competitions which are very much based on the individual.
“If you are 16 or you turn 16 in the year of competition, you can participate. That allows us to give our up-and-coming athletes the opportunity to compete as part of a representative team alongside our more established, older athletes.
“There are two rounds with half the events in all disciplines covered in Round 1 and the other half in Round 2. Last week in Round 1 the track events were the 50m sprint, the 200m sprint, and the 800m, along with the 4 x 400m relay. So, for those events alone, you have to have sprinters and you have to have middle distance athletes all stepping up to compete against one representative from all the other clubs.
“The field events were the shot putt, the long jump, and the pole vault. You can see there you’ve got to have a pretty diverse club that is trying to focus on as many disciplines as possible on the development sides of things.”
Individual athletes earn points based on where they finish in their event (12 points for first etc.), with points tallied together to make up the team’s overall total. There are 12 clubs vying for the women’s title and 13 fighting for the men’s. After Round 2, which takes place on January 23 in Athlone, the top six clubs will advance to the finals.
The demands that such a competition place on a club mean that it is a major achievement to be able to take part at all. Apart from Killarney Valley, Leevale AC from Cork were the only other club in Munster who fielded a team.
“For us to have enough athletes of that age or above, that are competent enough in their disciplines to be able to represent us and compete – and score – is a significant breakthrough. We scored quite well across some of the events. There were some events that we struggled to cover because we’re still trying to develop the full range, but as a club we know that we need to develop those disciplines.
“And we have some younger athletes who are 13 or 14 and they’re now learning pole vault, for instance. If we can maintain the momentum then we will have pole vaulters in a couple of years’ time.”
Griffin says the Killarney Valley competitors really enjoyed the experience, while also putting in some impressive performances.
“They loved it. The bigger powerhouse clubs have very high-profile athletes at their disposal; there were four Olympians whom our athletes got to compete against and interact with.
“Our own Sarah Leahy did exceptionally well in the 60m sprint. She ran the joint fastest time in the league, a personal best of 7.61 seconds, which is the fastest she has ever run 60m indoors.
“In the men’s 60m sprint, Conor Gammell made the top five and ran a personal best. We also had Sam Griffin, who is normally a long jumper, who ran a personal best of 7.58 seconds. He finished third in his race. Dara Looney, another long jumper who was doubling up on sprints, finished fifth and also had a personal best.
“Melissa Ahern, an up-and coming sprinter, ran 8.43 seconds, and Ellen Moloney, who was a first-timer at this level, ran a personal best as well. We have a good batch of sprinters competing and it’s good to expose them to this level.
“Alison Butler scored some valuable points for us in the 800m, and in the men’s 800 Oisín Lynch ran a massive personal best. Our shot putt thrower Kevin O’Callaghan is new to athletics; he had to throw an adult shot (7.2kg) for the first time and he did well, scoring five points for us. In fact, he threw the heavier weight nearly as far as he had been throwing the lighter weight.”
Griffin was keen to stress the importance of each individual team member to the overall group effort and whatever happens in Round 2, he is convinced that entering the competition will have huge benefits in the long run.
“We set ourselves of goal of having a team at National League level by 2023 so we’re a year ahead in that regard. It shows that we’re on the right trajectory.”
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