This is the greatest week of a footballer's life but most will probably not enjoy it as much as they should. The excitement is similar to a child's on the night before Christmas yet the players must remove themselves from the buzz that will take over both counties, especially Donegal. That is why the management and players will get away for a few days - it is as much to bring a bit of peace and quiet as any elaborate training or tactics.
This is Donegal's third camp this year and depending on which report you read, they are going to spend three, four or five days away this time. It is the life of a professional footballer and it is something pleasant for small stretches but I would be bored silly with a professional rugby player's lifestyle. The life of some rugby players may seem glamorous but looking at the same faces in the same hotel rooms, whatever the standard, when they go into camp for weeks on end must be a difficult experience mentally. Boredom is certainly the enemy. Being able to do other things and meet interesting people outside the circle of professional players and coaches is a great benefit to the GAA player. Ah yes, you might say, but what about the money? Well of course that is a horse of a different colour. But it is no wonder with plenty of time off and big money that many professional sportsmen turn to gambling.
Having mentioned interesting people that you meet in the GAA, it is exactly the reason why it is good to get away before the All-Ireland final. You need to avoid the other type or your head might get fried. Nothing to wear you out quicker than the mental energy used up talking about games.
Back in the fifties training camps were all the rage but were outlawed then. Now they are creeping back in weeks abroad or extended weekends at home. Some players take a few days' holidays, others lean on benign employers and students, well they continue as normal, a few days' college and lie up for the rest of the week.
The camps will focus on talk as much as action on the pitch. There is no benefit in tough training, players are not going to get fitter now so the days won't be designed to wear them out. Kickouts will be practised, frees, sidelines and other set plays. To the average viewer next week, though, it may not be immediately apparent. It reminds me of a soccer coach writing all the moves on a big board for a team meeting. When the manager came in and looked at all the arrows and diagrams he promptly rubbed the whole thing out. The coach in consternation asked him what was that about. That, said the manager, was the opposition.
The bottom line for all managers is to get his players to a level where they all know fairly well what everybody else will do. After that, tactics are not really necessary except for things like who will mark who and where the kickouts are going to be directed. Even at that a good goalie like Paul Durcan will change to suit the game as he did to great effect against Dublin.
There will be a lot of talking. Donegal will talk about how to handle James O'Donoghue and Kieran Donaghy, while Kerry need to find someone disciplined enough to track Ryan McHugh. He ends up on a lot of moves. It did not start in the Dublin match, he has been doing it at other times but he was either covered or did not get the ball. The Red Sea opened against the Dubs and he took full advantage. And Kerry will need someone to stop Neil Gallagher on kickouts either catching or knocking them down to his own man while Odhran MacNiallais goes walkabout and finds space away from the midfield congestion.
Yet even after all this discussion the great players will still decide it, as they can play their way through any game.
The other big thing is to avoid injury. There are no awards for bravery this week. For some it is hard to hard to break the habits of a lifetime and they need the edge to feel that they are ready. If it means lifting someone out of it in training then so be it. The management will hope that if a player is going to get a hit that he would be wearing a number higher than 25 next Sunday.
Discussions will also focus on the referee, Eddie Kinsella. It might even mean showing some footage of games refereed to look at what his style is. Kinsella signalled that referees were going to take the black card seriously when he sent off Richie Feeney in the first 10 minutes of the All-Ireland club final. Others since have not been as brave but he implemented the new law and he will hope next week that there is no call as big as that. Yet that decision might have put him on the shortlist of one for this appointment.
The weather for next week will be discussed. It may influence the type of boots worn, spare socks and togs to change into at half-time if it is wet and a spare set of jerseys. Most other things will not be mentioned to the players. They will be told what time they will be picked up at and after that someone else will work out all the logistical details. All the player has to do is make the bus or train on Saturday.
Some teams in the World Cup brought their own beds; this is hardly likely but a stuffy hotel room and an uncomfortable bed are not what you need before a final. One advantage of being away from partners either in camp or the night before the big game of course is no extra-curricular activities. Muhammad Ali always said that when he went away to train for a big fight he had no sex for six weeks. It later transpired he forgot to put the words, 'with his wife' into the sentence.
Anyway the other big nuisance is tickets. Players usually get six or eight free and something similar to buy. That is all probably dealt with already and may seem very little on a gate that comes to four or five million before sponsorship is even added in. Yet players will not complain now and usually tickets are given to somebody else to dispense. Anyone asking a player for a ticket in the week before a final is a complete clown and doesn't know what life is about. There are plenty of those around.
The best routine this week is to get on with life and keep busy. At the other times it is best to lie up at home and avoid people, even those with the best of intentions who want to call with holy water, miraculous medals, items blessed by the Pope, a piece of clothing from your dead granny and a bottle of poteen which worked wonders on an injured greyhound.
After all of this, the match is the easy bit.
Sunday Indo Sport