Despite the awful weather, it was great to have the inter-county football season back up and running on Sunday. The three-month break from inter-county action whets the appetite -- even for the January competitions.
Twelve counties have new managers in 2014 -- a sizeable portion of counties who will be dreaming of bigger and better things this season.
While it's an exciting time for supporters, players hate these early-season competitions -- well at least I did. It's not the established players I feel for during the month of January, it's the ones trying to earn a place on the panel. January is a bloodbath for the struggling panel-fillers, comeback kids and U-21 graduates of inter-county football.
The task of impressing a new manager during these early-season competitions is a nightmare. Coming so soon after the Christmas festivities and New Year's celebrations, most players are not at the level of fitness required to stand out.
The gruelling strength and conditioning training carried out over the winter months definitely stands to players in the championship but doesn't help the ones trying to impress in January. Heavy leg weights especially take their toll on muscles and affect speed in the short term.
If a player's club was knocked out of the championship early the chances are they won't have played any football for three months but still they need to get out there, often in atrocious conditions, and impress.
On January 9, 2011 I made the last of my many comebacks under Justin McNulty in the O'Byrne Cup against Wicklow. I hadn't played any football since Parnells had finished up in October but had been doing extensive weights training and was expected to stand out. Needless to say I felt rusty, didn't play well and didn't get picked for the next five games before removing myself from the panel during the league.
On top of the many obstacles for the poor souls trying to impress their managers in 2014 is the black card. Stephen O'Brien, a promising forward from Kenmare, only lasted 24 minutes of Kerry's opening McGrath Cup game before receiving a black card for a late tackle. It was his debut for the Kerry seniors after graduating from U-21 level.
His manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice said after the game: "I was annoyed enough with the black card, because Stephen O'Brien was going well, and we were anxious to see him over 70 minutes. The referee said it was a deliberate body check, but it looked to me as if the ball was in the area and he made contact with his opponent slightly late but it was a genuine enough effort at a tackle."
At the end of January many players around the country will receive text messages (letters back in my day) from the county board or manager thanking them for their effort but informing them they didn't make the county panel. All the sacrifices made over the Christmas period and all that strength and conditioning training boiled down to one shot in a meaningless January competition.
So the next time you see Bernard Brogan score a goal in Croke Park and think 'those footballers have the life' ... well, not all of them do.