The different nature of both last and this year’s GAA championships is something that everyone hopes will be consigned to the history books by the time the 2022 edition rolls around.
rom the lack of crowds to the reintroduction of straight knock-out in football and the abandonment of the group stage in the hurling provincials, there’s plenty that will mark that difference but when future historians check out those records, the fact that there’ll only be an eight-month gap between the finals is the first thing that will jump out.
The first of those 2021 finals will take place this weekend with the Leinster and Munster hurling titles up for grabs. All-Ireland champions Limerick are chasing a three-in-row in their province with Liam Sheedy’s Tipperary standing in their way as we begin to reach the business end of the summer.
For Limerick’s Gearóid Hegarty, the shortened gap and Covid restrictions have meant a very different preparation this year after what had been an extended 2020 campaign. But as the current hurler of the year explained in an exclusive interview with Independent.ie’s The Throw-In podcast, the enforced break actually suited him. And that could prove ominous for his and his county's rivals.
“Everybody's different. Some lads were probably training a week or two after the All-Ireland final,” the Bord Gais ambassador said.
“I can't. What works for me is just taking a complete break from it. More so mentally rather than physically.
“For example, we were back in training in November or December 2019. And obviously, then the All-Ireland final was in December 2020. So that's a long, long, long period of training.
“Now we took a break, which has been well documented, in the middle of 2020 but that's a long (stint). We'd about 12 or 13 months of training done before the All-Ireland final last year. That training doesn't just go away either, that training is stored away.
“I kind of took January and February off. Myself and my girlfriend are both teachers, we went down to a house my father has in Ballybunion. And we were just working away from down there, teaching away from home and going down to the beach in the evening with our two dogs. It was actually brilliant, it was a complete reset.
“Then when we went back training, I was just really fresh and I was mad for the road. Personally, I like taking a complete break from it.
“Joe O'Connor, who was our strength and conditioning coach a couple years ago, used to always say 'if you don't fully switch off, you can't fully switch on.’ And that little quote always resonated with me.
“They told us take January, take February off if you want, there's no structured training. If you want to do a bit of training on your own, just to feel good, you can but they weren't giving us anything to do. Because then when we do go back in whenever it is, it will be full on.
“As I said, it will be a short season and we had so much work done anyway up to December 2020. You can and you will tap back into all that work after a couple of weeks.
“So that was the thinking behind it. But as I said, everybody's different. That's what I did, it mightn't necessarily be what would work for everybody. I'm sure other lads did differently but that's what I wanted to do, I didn't mind taking a break.”
In terms of John Kiely’s side, their defence of the National League ended up being a disappointing campaign with defeats to both Galway and Waterford following an opening draw with Sunday’s opponents Tipperary.
Yet having not found a win in their first three games, big wins over Cork and Westmeath ensured a mid-table finish in Group A and gave the impression of a team hitting their stride at the right time with the championship in mind.
That impression has been borne out so far with an impressive eight-point win over Cork in the Munster semi-final and Hegarty conceded the long break may have “potentially” been a factor when pressed on the issue.
“The league this year was obviously a very different sort of year. I think it was only two weeks training before our first league game against Tipperary this year,” the two-time All-Ireland winner finished.
“Look, we weren't happy with our league performances. But we did know that we were still obviously training hard to get ready for the championship.
“At the end of the day, the championship is the one that's important. So we had very little work done before the league had gotten started.
“And we knew that it takes time to get to the level that we need to get to and we never panicked. We weren't necessarily overly happy with some of our league performances, but we knew we'd be fine.
“It comes down to trust in that Mikey (Kiely), our strength and conditioning coach, and Paul (Kinnerk), our hurling coach, would have us ready for championship.
“And we were fairly confident that they would. Time will tell.”