Kieran McGeeney on claims of over-training - We were probably doing least of all teams
Armagh manager dispels excessive training claims
Kieran McGeeney admits he is bemused at the continuing debate over the workload of the inter-county player, insisting similar practices of early-morning training and twice-a-day sessions were in place among some teams 20 years ago.
McGeeney is also adamant that stories of excessive numbers of pre-season training sessions for the Armagh football squad under his command have been greatly exaggerated.
The county's only All-Ireland-winning captain, immersed in his first full season as manager, has strongly disputed claims made that his squad was scheduled for 12 training sessions/meetings in one particular week in December.
And he recalled how, when it emerged that some teams trained twice a day it was hailed as revolutionary and the reason for success.
The former Kildare manager gave some perspective about time investment by GAA players by drawing comparison with the discipline to compete in other sports like boxing and triathlon which, he says, is far greater than what is required to play inter-county Gaelic football.
"Anyone who is even just keep-fit-orientated will train three or four nights a week. Minimum," he pointed out.
"You look at an amateur cyclist, rower, tri-athlete or boxer. They would train much more than Gaelic footballers because that's what is needed for that particular sport," he said.
"Generally, most county teams train Tuesday and Thursday on the pitch, maybe two gym sessions of around 40 minutes (in between) then something at the weekend.
"I've talked to the people who wrote this (claims) and gave them our training schedule but a lot of people just aren't interested in the truth. I can't put it any plainer than that.
"I showed them our exact training schedule. It's very hard to lie when there's 40 people there, so that's it. To say that we're training ten times a week, at six in the morning, and then two games at the weekend, 12 times a week? The reality is that we're training three or four times a week and that's it, there wouldn't be any more than that, There wouldn't be any more than three hours' contact time.
"Of all the teams in Ireland, I would say that we were probably doing the least. When they're there they work hard but it's a very small amount of contact times. The more you tell people the truth, the less they want to print it."
McGeeney said that on the two of the dates that they were purportedly training twice a day in December they hadn't trained at all because they had the squad's Christmas party and then Charlie Vernon's (current full-back) wedding the following day.
"We were supposed to have trained 12 times that week when we only trained twice. So we probably did more drinking that week than training," he said. "As I say, sometimes the story isn't as good when the truth is involved. I can't do much about it.
"People were training at half-six in the morning 20 years ago. It just depends on what you want to do at that particular moment in time. But the people who are over the fitness of teams now know what they're at. They really do.
"I know when I was training there was a cone in the corner with the one light from the clubhouse and I'd spend an hour and a half running around that pitch. It used to be demoralising. Now all the training evolves around football and games. But we were training four nights a week like that. In the past there were great examples of top-class teams training 28 or 30 days on the trot.
"There was no one giving out about it then when they were winning All-Irelands and that was correct then. This is not me having a go at it."
McGeeney said he personally loved training and preparing and thinks "most players would say the same".
"To have that type of focus and passion for something in your life is important because most of us can have a very mundane existence," he said.
"We get up, we got to work, some people are very lucky that they work at what their passion is, but in general most people don't. This is a good thing to have. Yes, there are hard times in it. Nobody likes the hard training part but the camaraderie and stuff comes afterwards and those are the things associated with it.
"I think it is something unique in the GAA that we have such a passion for a particular sport that doesn't exist anywhere else, unless you make it to the top levels.
"We have that passion here at all levels. I think it's a unique thing and one that should be embraced, not ridiculed."
McGeeney says he loves being back at Armagh because "it's a big part of me."
"I've always loved Armagh, it's been in my blood since I was a kid. From as far back when I was running and I represented Armagh at sprint level and long-jump level.
"It was tough for me to leave Armagh (as a player in 2007) and at that particular time there were a few things around that stung a wee bit too.
"But I think that's the thing about the GAA, it sort of always brings you back in even though it stings. It gets under your skin and it has to be part of what you do."
Does he feel pressure to deliver the type of silverware that evaded him in Kildare?
"There's always going to be that sort of thing hanging over you and if I ever do get it then there will be something else like 'he never got two,' the same way as when you were a player.
"The fact of the matter is we know that the structure isn't designed for breakthroughs, it's more of a status quo. To get that breakthrough it needs a tremendous amount of work and a wee bit of luck and the decisions going your way."
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