Tomás Ó Sé: From flying yoghurts to water fights, foreign training camps have more than physical benefits
From flying yoghurts to water fights, benefits of a training camp were more than physical
Published 05/06/2015 | 02:30
It strikes me that the week gone by may be just about the most important Kerry will put down in preparation for what's ahead of them.
Why? Because the small print of what's ahead will be scrutinised and the manifesto for how Eamonn Fitzmaurice wants things to evolve will be rolled out. The minute detail that ultimately makes the difference will be teased out carefully.
The group has decamped to the Amendoeira Golf Resort in the Algarve for a week of warm-weather training.
These camps have been popular now for well over a decade since Joe Kernan and Armagh sought something different in 2002.
And to a team's development they can be vital for a number of reasons. But the emphasis has switched sharply in that time from physical to tactical.
Even the timing of this Kerry trip, a week out from the first Championship game, tells you that. Normally, heavy pre-Championship work is incorporated with football on these trips, but this time it's different.
In the past, Kerry have opted to go before the end of the League. Our first one with Kerry was in 2004, Jack O'Connor's first year in charge, when Pat Flanagan was training us and every morning began with a 30 to 40-minute running session.
But all the hard, physical work will be done by now, so you can be sure that the priority this week will be tactical - defensive set-ups, offensive plays, kick-outs, every possible scenario worked through.
Time spent together under a blazing sun allows you such luxury that you don't have on a Tuesday or Thursday night in Killarney.
And team meetings can take place in a more relaxed, productive environment. Fellas won't have one eye on the door or be getting cranky if a night is stretching out too long, and what is talked about is generally played out the following morning when it's fresh in the mind.
I always found benefit from a week together and I know younger players, unsure of their place within a big inter-county squad, always developed quicker too.
In Amendoeira four of us would share an apartment and the idea was always to avoid cliques, so two of the more experienced players would room with two younger colleagues, who would quickly find their feet. They'd come away feeling more part of it all.
The camaraderie builds up quickly and you can't underestimate the benefit of that. Shooting the breeze with someone comes easier when you're away.
The masseurs' room was a regular meeting point at night. There'd be fruit, water and everything you need stored there and with the week's exertion it was a busy place.
But being up on the table getting a rub was taken as an invitation to be hosed down with water! You always has to watch your back.
The subtle change in approach to these weeks can be seen in the way down-time is spent too. In our first few years going out, first to Club La Santa in Lanzarote and then to Vilamoura, there was always a night set aside for a 'bonding session' over a few pints.
Diarmuid Murphy passed me on a run the morning after one of those night's out, which wasn't good, and by the end of Jack's reign the plug was pulled on letting us loose. No disrespect to 'Murph', but I took some ribbing from that one for a long time. It was just too counter-productive and the benefits weren't being properly reaped.
That doesn't mean it's all work and no play. Amendoeira has state-of-the-art facilities but it's quiet, so players need to improvise.
I regularly roomed with Paul Galvin and one of our favourite pastimes was to load up on yoghurts after dinner in the evening and bide our time.
Inevitably the heat of the night forces windows and doors to open and that was our cue to strike.
We'd peel back the tops of the cartons and let fly under the cover of darkness. If it didn't hit fellas directly it would spread so much it would hit something.
And that was enough for us as we retreated behind a bush in fits of laughter to watch the carnage unfold - shouts, doors slamming, shutters dropping in unison.
Inevitably, the search parties would be dispatched looking for the culprits and we might kill the rest of the night trying to evade capture.
We'd be careful enough, though, to have our own doors bolted for fear of retribution. Harmless, I know, but those were the little things that you took home with you.
The key to management and captaincy is that they have to make sure the players are also enjoying it off the field. If not, everything becomes laboured and difficult. Players need to be relaxed.
Inevitably, the schedule was tiring, especially if the physical work stacked up, with a running session, a football session and maybe a weights or circuit session in the evening.
I had bad ankles and made sure to strap them up before every session - sometimes that required three strappings a day. I hadn't a hair left from ripping them off by the end of the week.
But the resort doesn't have to be overlooking the 'Med' for these weeks to work.
Jim McGuinness set out his blueprint to beat Dublin over five days in Johnstown House last August, one of four or five away trips Donegal had. Fota Island, beside me in Cork, has a pitch surface as good as Croke Park with the best of facilities on site.
And maybe spreading them out over a few weekends in the year can reap even greater rewards for a team.
You can be sure that with up to 14 predominantly football-orientated sessions, Kerry will be sharp for their first outing against Tipperary. And they'll have a great sense of togetherness that just can't be replicated at home.
Of course at the end of the season we can rest assured the champions will be asked what they did, because that has to be the way to win!
On another note, I can't help thinking how futile last Sunday's 27-point win over Longford was for Jim Gavin in Dublin.
And how it will inevitably crank up the hype machine around them and send the media juggernaut hurtling towards them once again.
Don't get me wrong, it takes some football to win any game by 27 points, but in the greater scheme of things, what benefit does it serve them?
Is it creating a false impression of their real worth? They've won their last three Leinster Championship games by an average of almost 20 points each. They'd be better off to have won by three or four.
Some of the fringe players, who may or may not be good enough for the heat of battle later in the season, are just not being tested enough. In that sense Dublin are victims of their own success.
People might say the same about Kerry teams in the past, but we invariably had Limerick on our watch as well as Cork. Dublin don't have that right now and it's not doing them any good.
Look, they can only play what's in front of them but even if their games were 20pc harder it could make the difference. They need to play games out of Croke Park much more than their opponents need them to.
What struck me most about Dublin on Sunday was the contributions of Ciaran Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey. McCaffrey, especially, is thriving again after a difficult second season, while Kilkenny's recovery from cruciate trouble looks complete.
They had great first seasons but now they looked ready to lead.