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David Clifford's hectic schedule highlights demands on elite young players at this time of year

Clifford bagged 1-4 for Tralee IT in the Sigerson Cup just two days after making his senior debut with Kerry.

DAVID CLIFFORD’S TALLY of 1-4 for Tralee IT caught the eye yesterday as the Kerry college picked up their first Sigerson Cup victory in 11 years.

David Clifford Kingdom star David Clifford Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Just 48 hours after making his senior inter-county debut for the Kingdom on Sunday, Clifford was back in action for his college as they booked a place in the quarter-final of the third-level competition.

The young Kerry star played 109 minutes in total over the games against Donegal and Queen’s University, with just a day of rest in between.

His hectic schedule will continue this week as Kerry head to Elverys MacHale Park on Saturday night to face Mayo, while Tralee IT have a Sigerson Cup quarter-final against DIT or IT Carlow next Tuesday. On Sunday week, Kerry travel to Inniskeen to take on Monaghan in round 3 of the league.

If IT Tralee are successful in their Sigerson Cup quarter-final, the semi-finals are scheduled for 13 February.

Clifford’s case is not a standalone one. His college and county teammate Gavin Crowley faces a similar timetable, as well as UCC trio Killian Spillane, Sean O’Shea and Jason Foley.

Killian Spillane Killian Spillane came on for Kerry on Sunday Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Cork hotshot Stephen Sherlock featured for the full 70 minutes against Tipperary last Saturday, and played the last 10 minutes in UCC’s win over Garda College yesterday. His team-mates Kevin Crowley and Kevin Flahive completed a full 130 minutes between the two games.

Sherlock, Crowley and Flahive will travel to Pairc Esler to take on Down with the Rebels on Sunday, play a Sigerson quarter-final against NUI Galway on Tuesday, line out against Louth the following Sunday before a possible Sigerson semi-final the Tuesday after that.

Similarly, Cian O’Dea, Pearse Lillis and Keelan Sexton have to balance busy football duties with UL and Clare.

On the hurling front, Tadhg de Burca completed 70 minutes for Waterford on Sunday and another 60 minutes for UCD in the Fitzgibbon Cup yesterday.

UL play Waterford IT in round 3 of the Fitzgibbon Cup tomorrow, where big names like Conor Cleary, David Fitzgerald, Ian Galvin and Tony Kelly (all Clare), John McGrath and Jason Forde (both Tipperary), Mark Fanning (Wexford) and Pat Lyng (Kilkenny) will feature.

They’ll be expected to put in big performances in a college game that is sandwiched in between important league fixtures with their respective counties.

Tadhg de Burca Tadhg de Burca in action for UCD Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

There are many, many more inter-county players facing schedule conflicts than the ones outlined above.

It’s not an ideal scenario for elite young players to face three games in the space of seven days, particularly given the heavy pitches at this time of year. Various research studies have highlighted how such little rest in between games will inevitably lead to players picking up muscle injuries.

Often times, wear and tear problems don’t start showing up until later in the careers of top-level GAA players.

In a recent interview with The Sunday Times, Conor McManus estimated that he played 60 matches the year he turned 18. His hip problems began in his early 20s and he had an operation on his right hip in 2011. McManus admitted 12 months ago  that he is “probably looking at hip replacement surgery” on the other hip once he retires.

Dozens of other high profile inter-county players have undergone hip surgeries in recent seasons, prompting medical experts to declare such injuries are reaching epidemic levels in the GAA.

While progress has been made with the U21 football championship being recast as a developmental U20 competition and minor grades moving to U17, the physical burden on inter-county college players in January and February remains a great one.

Scrapping the inter-county pre-season competitions, running off the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups in January and giving third-level teams exclusive access to their players at this time of year would go some way to alleviating the burden on emerging stars such as Clifford.

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