GAA urged to tackle scourge of binge drinking

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Outgoing Waterford hurling team doctor Mark Rowe has warned the GAA must get to grips with the binge drinking culture that pervades the organisation at playing level.

Rowe, who last night stepped down as medic to the senior hurlers after four seasons, due to work commitments, said his experiences have opened his eyes to the problem.

Rowe described his time with Waterford as “a great privilege” but expressed alarm at the amount of alcohol consumption among players nationwide.

“One of the big challenges out there is the issue of binge drinking. It ’s not just in sport, it ’s not just in hurling or in Waterford hurling  — it ’s everywhere. In a way, the young hurlers are like the reflection of the community they come from. Even though many of them would be extremely disciplined and focused, that self-destruct button of binge drinking can bring everybody down. The thing with drink is there ’s these ideas that  ‘if I ’m not drinking anymore than the other fellas I haven ’t a problem ’ and  ‘if I don ’t fall down in a heap I haven ’t a problem ’ and  ‘sure, if I ’m off for the drink for three weeks and go on the lash then what ’s the problem with that ’.

“But it ’s more the effects that drink has, the psychological impact in terms of anxiety, self-esteem, confidence issues, panic and the unintended consequences of drinking and of course the physical aspects. I think there is a mountain of work to be done by the GAA on this issue, which is really about empowering young people to improve their self-esteem and confidence.”

Rowe sees the issue as something that is shared between different age groups of players.

“In my experience, it ’s inter-generational. This isn ’t something that the older players did and the younger players are squeaky clean. It ’s learning behaviour.”

Rowe, author of “The Men ’s Health Book”, has also seen evidence of player burnout, both mentally and physically, and other cases where hurlers are at risk of it, especially the latter with overuse injuries.

“I would nearly call it the law of unintended consequences. The more talented the player, the more he or she is going to suffer.

“You have a very good hurler at 17 and he ’s playing for his school, his club at a couple of levels and his county at minor level. He ’s brought into the senior panel then.

“We need to look more at player development and ask what we want these players doing at 22 or 23. There has to be a five-year plan. Training less and more joined up thinking to put the player first is very important.

“As the doctor of the team, you ’re part medical doctor, you ’re part confidant, you ’re part advocate, you ’re lots of different things.

“But often what happens is for all sorts of reasons the player may not want to tell you about something early on because he might think he won ’t get picked.”

Having been with the county ’s senior hurlers when they were subjected to a 21-point Munster final defeat by Tipperary in 2011, Rowe is all too aware of criticism players can receive.

“I feel great empathy for them because they ’ve given their best, they ’re amateurs, they ’re living in local communities and they ’ve to go back into those communities on a Monday morning and if it hasn ’t worked out or expectations haven ’t been met, stones can be thrown. There ’s a goldfish bowl of pressure for players at times and they need a lot of resilience to deal with that.”