Next month’s Munster senior hurling championship will place huge demands on players but Austin Gleeson believes pay for play would spoil inter-county Gaelic games.
Waterford, as well as Tipperary, have four games in as many weeks in the provincial competition — Offaly and Wexford face the same intense schedule in the Leinster SHC — and Gleeson acknowledges it will ask a lot of Derek McGrath’s panel.
“Four 70 minutes in four weeks is tough — it’s totally different to league, it’s much higher intensity. Knowing Derek, he probably has the four teams picked already for the four games and what way we’re going to go in the four days.
“It’s something maybe that four or five of the lads might actually end up playing the majority of the games, but it’s going to be very tough, especially the third and fourth games — the legs are going to get heavy, the mind might kick in saying ‘you’re not able to do this, you’re not able to do that’ but it’s just something we have to manage. Even if one fella is really sore after a Sunday, just take a break until the Friday, get the recovery done, get everything you need done to be ready for the following week.”
The challenge facing players is psychological too, according to Gleeson.
“Four games in four weeks is going to be massive on the head. If you get a slight niggle in the first game, you’ve three games to go in three weeks and how are you going to get through them? It’s something we have to sit down as a team and just work around.”
Waterford will have round-the-clock physio treatment available to them while they can recover in the pool of Faithlegg House Hotel, who have partnered up with the team.
Gleeson knows the panel don’t ask for much, which is one of the reasons why he is against pay for play.
Last week, a leaked report by the former Towards 2034 GAA committee suggested an allowance for inter-county players and managers but Gleeson prefers the status quo.
“I don’t think it (pay for play) should happen. The reason everyone loves hurling is that is about amateurs playing an amateur sport. It’s something I don’t think should happen. It would take away from the love of the game. If you’re getting paid, you could go training and wander around thinking ‘it doesn’t matter, I’m getting paid anyway’. Not having Walsh Park as a base for this summer’s Munster SHC is disappointing but not an issue for Gleeson.
His fellow Littlewoods ambassador Jackie Tyrrell believes the venue doesn’t suit Waterford anyway.
“In ways, it might not,” said Gleeson. “It is a small enough field and we have players who like to get around the field and run at the opposition. Maybe it doesn’t, the field was not in the best condition throughout the league but I played there last Saturday with the club and it was not too bad, so maybe in the summer it would suit us more.
“We have played more games in recent years in Thurles than we have in Walsh Park so we don’t mind playing Cork there.
“The last time we played Tipp in Limerick it was a disaster so we will have to forget about that game. It doesn’t matter where the game is played, it is just a field, it is 15 on 15 in a game of hurling and we just have to go out and give it our all.”
After a difficult 2017 season where he felt he “was walking around with my head in my boots as if I had no kind of confidence”, the 22-year-old is aiming to “do what I did as a 16-year-old and just enjoy it”.
However, he knows he will continue to be man-marked closely.
“In the All-Ireland final, Gearóid McInerney, he followed me everywhere, I think. At one stage, we had a sideline on the (Hogan) side of the field and I was on the other side of the field and he literally followed me until I put the ball down on the ground. I knew at that stage he was just not going to leave me alone.”
Gleeson anticipates this is McGrath’s last season but hopes not and doesn’t want to know it for certain.
“I can’t answer for the rest of the lads but, personally, I’d prefer not to, to be honest. He brought me in in 2014 so I don’t know what it’s like to play for Waterford underneath anyone else. So, I wouldn’t really like to know, going into our last Championship together, if it was the case, that it is his last year.”
By John Fogarty GAA Correspondent Irish Examiner