By Declan McCoy
ALL around the country excitement is building as we are heading into club championship season. One thing is for sure, the landscape has changed dramatically.
Traditionally the sun would be splitting the trees, lads would be scalped with a championship hair cut and the long running injuries would magically clear up for a do-or-die game. In keeping with tradition, I’ve gone for the ‘championship’ hair cut but outside of that so much has changed.
Firstly, the weather is so unpredictable that you could literally be drenched, baked in the heat and frozen all in the one game. Secondly, the format has changed in many counties to group stages and the back door.
This has undoubtedly diluted the intensity of the early rounds, and indeed teams also endeavour to time their run and often prepare for later in the championship.
The third thing to consider is the spilt-season format. I’m not an advocate of it and I don’t know too many people that do like it. On the county side of it, I feel the championship is rushed through and the season is over far too early.
I understand the rationale was to free up county players to be available exclusively for a period to be available for their clubs. This in many cases is not how things are transpiring.
County players are training so intensely that many take a well-earned extended break when the season is over, you could not begrudge them this, though it eats into the window of availability to their clubs.
Several county teams are back training already, which I find ridiculous. The GAA has never been more scientific in its approach to conditioning, but to think that some county players are being flogged at the peak of club championship is ridiculous.
You could have a scenario where some county players are only available to their clubs for two or three games all season. The embargo on group trainings is being flaunted through small group sessions or individual work. I fear for the club game when a mandated period for full availability of players is not being observed.
Many counties will have their leagues wrapped up pre-championship to allow full focus on the main event.
My own team, Naomh Mairtin, have our league final this Sunday and then a two-week break before championship begins. Some counties don’t finish their league to post-championship, often in October or November. I cannot think of anything worse, unless you win the championship, than trying to keep players motivated coming into winter to restart the league.
All managers and coaches will try to ensure their teams reach their peak for the crunch games in the championship. This is much easier said than done. You can pitch your preparation in terms of workload and periodisation.
However, you can’t legislate for key injuries or players returning from injury. Losing players to injury can seriously knock a team but a main player returning just in time for championship can dramatically help in terms of peaking at the right time.
Teams will often play challenge matches pre-championship to try new things or to perfect others. Personally, I would prefer to play good competitive league games where the result matters, thus sharpening the competitive edge of the players.
I would strongly caution against attempting to gauge any possible championship credentials on the back of a good win in a challenge game or a positive league campaign. Championship is the be all and end all and the best teams do it when it matters.
All I would say is to enjoy the big games that your club play this summer. Remember to bring sun cream, a hat, a coat and an umbrella.