Wicklow Senior football manager Davy Burke has said that there is still work left to go before his team return to full match fitness but insisted that they were eager to get going when they meet Offaly on the opening day of the national football league this weekend.
This Sunday, Wicklow will begin their first year in Division 3 South since gaining promotion from Division 4 in 2020, with the visit of Offaly to Aughrim being their first obstacle.
Burke, who saw his team take on Antrim in a challenge game last weekend, said that said encounter brought to light issues around matchday fitness that will need to be worked on in the coming weeks, although he said that said problems can only be addressed by going up against opposition in games.
'There was plenty of black smoke, as you can imagine,' he joked. 'There were a lot of lads whose lungs were burning early on, and Antrim were very, very lively. I don't know if that is a reflection on us, or a reflection on them, but early on, Antrim were hopping off the ground.
'To be honest, there is very little that we can do with fitness now, with the nature of the season and the nature of the lockdown. Running them up and down Ballinakill isn't going to make them any fitter for Offaly, but there is more match fitness and some of the decision making wasn't good. As I said, some of our lads were tiring quicker. You can only get that through games. There is no other way. You can't imitate it in training. You can play as many in-house games as you want, there is still not an opposition, so I think we got huge value out of it.
'(Challenge matches) are huge value, particularly in the year that's in it. You haven't got match practice. You are not making decisions under pressure. You are trying your best to replicate it in training but, ultimately, you are limited in what you can replicate.
'You have two teams going at it and the lads know exactly what you are trying to do. It was great to go out against an opposition. We didn't know what they were going to do, they didn't know what we were going to bring, and we could see how they could cope with us and how we could cope with them.'
Wicklow will be without Gearóid Murphy for the 2021 season, as he has stepped away from the panel in order to nurse underlying injuries. Meanwhile, John Crowe resumed training with the team on Tuesday after recovering from a hamstring injury. On the flip side, Burke confirmed that Dean Healy and Mark Jackson will remain as captain and vice-captain, respectively. All in all, he said that the new names added to the squad had bedded in well, and they were yearning to get going again.
'The lads are delighted to be back and there is a great buzz and energy around the place. Everybody is mad excited and are looking forward to playing a proper game of football, so we will be fairly happy with where we are, I think.'