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Monday 24 July 2017

Dublin's treble mission to peak when it matters

January's team holiday and end-of-league break point to 'fresh' approach from Gavin

Dublin manager Jim Gavin, left, and Dublin backroom staff member Jason Sherlock
Dublin manager Jim Gavin, left, and Dublin backroom staff member Jason Sherlock

"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it" ... so goes the famous old adage.

But what if you've a history of winning, like the Dublin footballers? Do you keep everything the same as the last silver-laden campaign, on the presumption that what worked in 2016 will reap further glory now?

Signs are, no. From the outside looking in, it appears Jim Gavin has taken a different approach as he chases a Sam Maguire treble.

While a developmental squad was setting out in successful pursuit of the O'Byrne Cup last January, the front-line troops were enjoying a team holiday in Jamaica.

They only resumed collective training a fortnight before their Allianz League opener in Cavan, after which Gavin remarked: "Any inter-county player at the elite level of Gaelic football, they are well-versed in what condition they need to be when they come back in."

Despite that late seasonal start, Dublin stayed unbeaten all the way to another Division 1 final, where they narrowly succumbed to Kerry.

Cue a five-week break, far longer than the norm, as players switched focus to club championship action and some timely R&R.

"I loved it," Kevin McManamon enthused in mid-May, just as Dublin were reconvening ahead of their Leinster opener against Carlow. "We were itching to go back moving properly."

Method

So, is there method to Dublin's seemingly altered schedule? Plenty of it, according to Professor Niall Moyna, DCU Head of the School of Health and Human Performance - and their Sigerson football manager in his spare time.

Moyna "wouldn't be privy" to what's going on in the Dublin camp but he surmises that they are taking a different, and "very prudent", approach this year.

"They've been on the road a number of years," he points out. "I've watched a few of the hurling teams this year and I think they've made the opposite mistake. You win an All-Ireland and think 'Well, maybe if we raise it ten per cent the next year we'll do even better'.

"It's a bit like a middle-distance athlete. Over years you accumulate fitness and it doesn't take as much to maintain that. You get muscle memory.

"The Dublin players, just looking at them, it's very unlikely that they waver more than 10-15pc from their maximum conditioning at any stage of the year.

"So it doesn't take much to get them up to maximum level. And the problem is, Dublin have to calibrate; they have to decide what level of fitness do we need to win another All-Ireland? There's a big risk in going beyond where they need to go. That whole idea of over-reaching, over-training - staleness can kick in."

John O'Keeffe echoes that point ... and he's speaking from experience, having overseen the training load of an experienced Kerry squad, managed by Páidí Ó Sé, that won the 2000 All-Ireland and reached the semis or final for each of the next three years. Rest, recovery and freshness, mental as much as physical, are key.

"You're better off to be a little undercooked, particularly at this stage for the likes of Dublin who are not meeting any major challenges yet," O'Keeffe reasons.

The Kerry legend cites the depth of Dublin's panel, and the blooding of youngsters in the league, as factors that will help Gavin keep things fresh, not just for Sunday's Leinster semi-final against Westmeath but for the bigger games to come.

Both men touch on the fact that Dublin's 2016 peak came before their All-Ireland saga with Mayo.

Moreover, according to Moyna, this has been a feature under Gavin.

"The finals were never their best performances, and I think the reason for that was they were so competitive in the league every year. And it was a year-long journey," the Monaghan native stresses.

"This year, taking the pressure off them in the league in particular has shortened the season dramatically for those players. So I'd say they're coming back really, really hungry ... and in fact, the way it worked out, the (league) final was probably the best thing that could have happened them. It was a real kick in the rear end."

Disimproving

O'Keeffe perceived a flatness in Dublin's Division 1 final display against his home county. "And maybe they felt that, towards the very latter stages of the championship last year, their performances - I thought - were disimproving.

"They weren't able to sustain their very high standards. So I'd say this year they're aware that it's a matter of peaking at the right time."

That's August. And September.

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