Uncertainty reigns regarding the return of inter-county and club GAA action, leaving players and coaches in limbo.
While it was initially planned that the county campaign would take place before the club programme, beginning at the end of February, there has been no announcement since it was revealed that GAA did not in fact count as elite sport. Jamie Wall, manager of Kilbrittain and Mary Immaculate College, has already seen the Fitzgibbon Cup cancelled this year, but he wouldn’t mind waiting for a later club start, once teams were given time to get up to speed.
“I’d always be cautious about speaking on behalf of anyone else,” he says, “so I can only state my own preference, which is for the county to go first this time around, in terms of preparation time.
“Even as championship is going on, you’re trying to figure out your team during games and that’s very tough. I would rather that the inter-county would get a go-ahead and that the club leagues would start up, so players and managers would get a chance to prepare.”
In terms of players transitioning from inactivity to playing again, last year showed the need for a steady increase in intensity.
“The biggest thing is that, when they get back on to the pitch, they’re ready to train,” Wall says.
“They don’t have to be ready to play or hopping off the ground, but they have to have a baseline of fitness and mobility stuff done.
“Whenever this gets going, there’ll be a real temptation to fly back into it and there’s a huge danger of injuries there. The most important thing, really, is injury-prevention, working with someone who knows how to have the lads’ bodies ready for training.
“I don’t think people realise how hard that really is for guys. The first week where the GAA gave a go-ahead for contact training, we played ten minutes of a match and the lads were beat, the rest of the session was a waste of time.
“The following week they were grand, they had a base built up, but you just didn’t realise the impact that playing a contact game actually has on the body. That’s what a pre-season is so important.
“Look at professional sports – Premier League players are gassed after a truncated season running over, a poor pre-season and then three games a week. If their bodies can’t hack it, then we need to be very wary of what we expect of amateur players.”
As a coach looking for new ideas, Wall finds that there are flashes of inspiration.
“You can do a bit,” he says, “but I think you wouldn’t be human if you found it easy.
“I find I get bursts. You come up with a small-sided game or a drill-based thing and you draw it up. It’s all going into a dossier, for want of a better term.
“You might be there for a week where you’re thinking you’re doing great work and planning out the first six weeks. Then you look around and realise that we’re – I don’t want to say we’re nowhere near getting back, but there have been no indications that we’re going back anytime soon either.
“It’s hard to stay on top of that and you kind of have to temper the way you deal with players, as a result. If I’m feeling like that and I’m one person and I’m dealing with a panel of 35 guys, there’s a good chance that, in a given week, 10 of them are feeling the same way.”
Ultimately, it’s a waiting game.
“The big thing for me personally, and I presume it’s the same for most people, is the lack of a date to work towards,” Wall says, “and I’m not having a go at the GAA or anyone, because they’re only waiting to be told by someone else.
“I think, if you knew that you were doing something on a particular day, you could work towards that – it’s the same as an exam or a deadline at work. When there’s nothing really there, or no indication as to when you’re going to get back, it’s very hard to prep with any sort of continuous rigour.”