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Wednesday 21 August 2019

Famous 5 still in for shot at Sam

Recovery and rest are most important for players now

Kerry’s David Clifford (l) and Donegal’s Paul Brennan grapple with each other during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Group 1 Phase 2 match at Croke Park last Sunday
Kerry’s David Clifford (l) and Donegal’s Paul Brennan grapple with each other during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Group 1 Phase 2 match at Croke Park last Sunday

So here we are. Late July.

Five teams left in the Championship.

If you'd taken a straw poll on who they'd be back in January, we'd have guessed at least four of them anyway.

Maybe five depending on whether you fancied Galway or Mayo to come through the Connacht final that never happened.

For all the unease about the Super 8s, the use of Croke Park and the uncertainty about the future structure of the All-Ireland SFC, I'm not sure there's any way of organising it that wouldn't have brought us back to this point with the same teams still in existence.

Are the top teams pulling away from the rest?

It definitely seems that way.

The science behind producing elite teams has accelerated in the past few years and if counties aren't embracing the most modern methods, they'll slip further behind those still standing at this late stage in the summer over the coming seasons.

It's no longer a case of throwing together the 33 best club players in the county, flogging them in winter and hopefully coming good by the time the sun starts to shine.

All five of these teams have had degrees of success at underage levels over the past decade and that clear pathway into the senior ranks is hugely important.

In some ways, it's a shame not to have a breakthrough side because we already know everything there is to know about the five survivors.

Dublin almost defy analysis at this stage.

We're still as certain about Kerry's attacking options as we are uncertain about some elements of their defending.

Donegal's big players are as influential as any in the country but it's the support cast that needs to prove themselves now.

Tyrone are probably more like the Tyrone we've come to know over the past few years than they were during their brief identity crisis in the Ulster semi-final.

And Mayo's capacity for both the sublime and the ridiculous continues to entertain the nation as much as tortures their fans.

For those with surviving designs on winning this year's All-Ireland, this is a great time of year to be a player.

You've done the work. There's little enough left to achieve from a fitness point of view and everybody has a fair idea of where they stand in their manager's plans.

Essential

Recovery is a huge thing now.

Some teams, like Mayo and Tyrone, have been playing week-on-week and rest is essential.

Even for Dublin's players, three games in four weeks is an unusually high volume of competitive activity at this time of year so things will be dialled down a small bit in training.

Obviously there's a opportunity now for managers to tweak something given there are no matches this weekend.

They might stage an A versus B game next weekend or even go on a training camp but if I was managing a team, I'd keep it much lighter than that.

If there is an internal challenge match, it might be a shortened one or a conditioned game.

The problem with a training camp is you're taking up a free weekend from players who have put a huge amount of time and head space into the season so far.

Are you overloading fellas with a full weekend of work after a hectic last few weeks?

It might only be in Carton House or somewhere similarly close to home, but if you're coming from work on a Friday and leaving on a Sunday and then straight back into work on the Monday, it doesn't really feel like any sort of break.

For players to perform at the peak of their abilities, they need to be able to relax and spend time with their families, friends, wives or partners.

And Jim Gavin has always been more than fair with the Dublin players in that regard.

His theory is that if your life away from the pitch is in good order, it's easier to devote yourself to fulfilling your potential on the pitch.

It's important to switch off.

Comfort

But for all that, there's a real comfort in being around the rest of the panel just now too.

Playing inter-county football can have an extreme effect on everything else in your life thing and there's solace in spending time with people who are having that same experience.

We used to go out to Portmarnock Beach and jump off High Rock into the Irish Sea the day after a match.

A simple way to kill a bit of time but when you're still in the Championship and know there's big days coming down the road, that bit of rest and relaxation can help keep the head clear.

Everyone else in your life might be talking or at least thinking about the match but when you're on the inside, it's essential you keep your thoughts to yourself or within the group.

Bee in a jam jar

Pat Gilroy used to use this analogy of a bee in a jam jar.

Don't ask me where he got all these insect analogies from but it makes sense, if you think about it!

As a player, you're on the inside, oblivious to everything that happens outside.

It's just noise. And the less you hear of it, the better.

This is also the worst time of year to pick up an injury, something you become more vigilant about as you get older and wiser.

In training, you'd be eyeing up certain lads, trying to stay a mile away from them if we were about to do a tackle box drill.

There's enough danger out there at this time of year without getting maimed by one of your own team mates!

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