Martin Breheny: Cork duo of Cormac Murphy and Alan O'Connor show up training myth
Are Murphy and O'Connor all the better for missing tough graft?
Published 08/07/2015 | 02:30
So now you tell us, Mike. Many of us have long believed it to be true anyway but it's nice to see the industry in acknowledgement mode.
Here's some of what Mike McGurn, strength and conditioning expert, said to my colleague Colm Keys in yesterday's Irish Independent.
The general thrust of the interview related to how Cork footballer Alan O'Connor and hurler Brian Murphy could return after more than a year in retirement and perform so effectively in the whitest heat of championship action. How can players do that in the modern game?
What about the pre-Christmas gym programme, the many gruelling outdoor sessions in January and February, the dietary straitjacketing, the training weekends and the requirement on inter-county panellists to suspend normal social interaction?
"It highlights time is being wasted, dicking around on strength and conditioning. At the end of the day, there are quality players and quality will always come to the fore," said McGurn, who has worked in rugby league, rugby union (Irish team during Eddie O'Sullivan's term as coach), boxing and GAA (Ireland International Rules team, Armagh, Louth and Antrim).
He described training six nights a week as "a load of baloney - there is no need for it." He also made the very obvious - although repeatedly ignored nowadays - point that skill is the top priority and that without it, strength and conditioning counts for very little.
And then there's the length of GAA pre-season training, which McGurn believes is too long. Of course, it tends to be decided by comparisons, so if other counties are beavering away, it takes nerve to hang back and opt for a later start.
McGurn admitted that his comments were going against his own profession. You bet! In fact, the massive industry that has grown around GAA teams will be horrified by suggestions that some of the current trends are, as McGurn put it, overrated.
The reality is that many of the backroom 'experts' associated with county teams are being paid, so don't expect too many others to come in support of McGurn's views. On the contrary, the support network, backed by a gullible media, has done a superb job in selling the line that it is indispensable. It comes at a cost, of course, but so what? Isn't every county at it?
If Alan O'Connor, who hadn't played inter-county football since 2013, could rejoin the Cork panel in late April and play so well in a Munster final a little over two months later, what does it say about the need for months of training?
Indeed, it may well be the case that by avoiding the heavy grind, O'Connor was fresher and more in tune with the needs of the actual game as opposed to the demands of preparing for it. Obviously, he was in good shape when he returned, without having been part of the county programme.
If Down had Benny Coulter aboard this summer, their season might still be afloat. He retired late last year, stating that it was time to "allow a younger breed of Down footballer the chance to make a mark".
If Coulter could have avoided the heavy training grind early in the season, would he have stayed on? And would he have more to offer in the championship than one of the 'younger breed'?
Managers are big into the group ethic, citing the need for universal sacrifice. They aren't keen on players - even those with heavy mileage on the clock - opting out early in the year on the basis that it's bad for morale if concessions are made.
Ultimately, though, the aim is to have the best team for the championship. How it's put together is irrelevant. So if an older player only returns in April but is still better than some of those who were training since the previous November, then he should be used.
Remember back to the 1980s when Galway pair Peter Finnerty and Gerry McInerney used to head to the US in September, returning in the following May to join the squad for championship training.
McInerney created a record by winning two successive All-Ireland medals without ever playing a league game. That sort of regime, where two young players played championship only, would be scoffed at nowadays.
But then, Galway manager Cyril Farrell and his trusty lieutenants, Phelim Murphy and Bernie O'Connor always did things their own way. It worked too as Galway won two All-Irelands and five semi-finals in 1985-90.
As for McGurn's comments about training, they raise some interesting points. But will anything change?
Don't bank on it, since it seems the juggernaut carrying the heavy load approach is out of control.