Tipp recruitment drive essential to preserving gains
Lacey targets solid future after year of progress
When Brian Lacey thinks of the way things were and the towns that had to be negotiated just to make a midweek training session back home in Tipperary 20 years ago, the 6.0pm express train from Dublin to Thurles might just be one of the biggest aids the footballers of his native county enjoy.
Every inch counts so Lacey fully appreciates that when Michael Quinlivan and Alan Campbell, among other Dublin-based players, can board a train in the capital city and be on time for the start of a session an hour-and-a-half later, returning by 11pm that night, it makes a massive difference.
Bottlenecks along the old N7 and N8 eventually forced Lacey to call time on Tipperary and pitch in with Kildare but he has been back with Tipp this year in a coaching and video analysis capacity and has seen the inches gained that propelled them to such a lofty peak against Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday.
"In my day I couldn't contemplate driving to Clonmel, where training was at the time. It meant beating traffic and going through seven or eight towns. Now the lads can be down and back, having trained in between, in five hours."
It feeds into his conviction that to compete Tipperary, and counties like them, have to be smarter.
"Even the analysis that all teams do can be done remotely. It is helping Tipperary more than a Dublin or Kildare where they are only a half-hour away," said the 1998 All-Star.
"Small things like that are needed. That's where Tipperary have to be smarter because they are never going to have the purse strings of Dublin or Kerry. They need to manage well what resources they have.
"These are small things people mightn't talk about but have changed in the modern era which are a leveller for all teams."
Online strength and conditioning resources, video analysis sent privately to players for perusal in their own time have all helped to cut down the need for unnecessary travel.
Those inches, Lacey feels, are what Tipperary worked on getting right this year.
But to expand in the years ahead, to stay as competitive as they were this season, they need to grow their squad.
"At least there is a carrot there, they are in a Munster semi-final next year and they are avoiding Kerry. That's a start to the year already. This year is going to help from a recruitment point of view in attracting other players.
"For the development squads that are currently being worked with in the county, they'll be looking on these as their role models, we see that in every county. When you have a successful team, sometimes the 11- or 12-year-olds become a good minor team years later."
The last team to make a breakthrough like it and reach an All-Ireland semi-final, Wexford in 2008, slowly ebbed away after that despite coming close to winning the 2011 Leinster final but Tipperary look better equipped to preserve some of the gains they have made.
In the short term Lacey believes any recruitment drive can focus on four areas: injured players like Ger Mulhair, players who went to the US for the summer, those who committed to hurling and last year's minor team that lost Munster and All-Ireland finals to Kerry.
Paddy Codd and Barry Grogan, who retired after last year, may also have something more to give, he believes.
"That's all for Liam (Kearns) to decide but if Tipperary were to get at least one, maybe two from each category it would put them in a stronger place.
"There's a nice minor team there from last year. Those guys weren't involved and some of those involved with the hurlers too maybe that just caught up with them in the final. I'm sure he'll be looking at the Jack Kennedys of this world from the minors last year," he said.
So far only Aidan Buckley from that team has pushed through to the fringes of the squad.
"To be successful in the future you won't get away with a panel of 26. You're going to need 33 or 34 guys coming in and being able to rotate during the league. We were lucky not get injuries this year," Lacey reflected.
"There were a lot of headwinds and obstacles but it galvanised management and players. Players were going away, players weren't committing but we got some players too.
"Bill Maher would get on any county team in the country. If you took 10 out of Kerry or Mayo, it is bound to have some effect."
Tipperary's lack of depth was perhaps illustrated by the fact that they rarely ran in a substitute until the last quarter unless required by a black card or an injury.
Lacey believes Tipperary may have benefited from their later start to preparations for the season due to Kearns' delayed appointment.
"In hindsight, maybe starting back late enabled lads to be fresher come July and August. Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes you see teams having serious league campaigns but they've petered out in the championship.
"When the dry ball came it suited the Tipperary players. I think they are a top of the ground type of team. I don't think they are winter footballers."
The other great leap he feels they must make is in resourcing the team to a better level.
"You need support in the modern game, you are going to need resources to keep with the top four and that's an area Tipp are going to have to drive on in as well."