AS counties prepare for a return to collective early training next week, the work of the various strength-and-conditioning coaches will never be as important.
That’s because there are genuine fears of players over-exerting themselves in an attempt to make up for lost time and suffering injuries as a result.
And with the national leagues scheduled to start in three-to-four weeks, there’s a high risk of players being forced to sit out games.
There are fewer matches but in a more condensed time period. Cork footballers, for example, play three games in Division 2 south against Kildare, Laois and Clare over successive weekends from May 15 before a fortnight’s break, when promotion and relegation semi-finals will be played.
There are obvious concerns about this hectic resumption which highlights the importance of proper guidance for players, their own disciplined approach and squad depth.
This last point is probably the most relevant because of the quick turnaround for the provincial championships, which start at the end of June.
Cork’s strength-and-conditioning expert, Kevin Smith, in conjunction with coach Cian O’Neill, adopted individual programmes for players during the recent lockdown.
How they’ve adhered to this will become evident when the panel comes together for the first time as a group on Monday or Tuesday next.
Former Dublin star Diarmuid Connolly dwelt on the topic in his role as an ambassador for BoyleSports, warning teams could be hampered by injuries following the roadmap for a return to competition.
Connolly expressed concern that the reduced preparation time could lead to problems for some teams.
“I don’t think it’s long enough. For perfect preparation you’d want eight to 10 weeks of a pre-season to get lads up to speed,” he said.
“But, it looks like three-week lead time and straight into weekly games in the league.
“That’s going to open guys up to getting soft muscle injuries, knocks and niggles and you’re talking about depleted squads then.
“It’ll be interesting to see how squads cope with this, but it could open up the league campaign. Anyone could get in the mix now and it could make things a little bit more exciting.”
The Dubs go into Division 1 as runners-up to champions Kerry, but it’s the All-Ireland that will dominate their planning and league success won’t be that important.
Limerick hurling strength-and-conditioning coach Mikey Kiely takes a different view, believing inter-county pre-seasons tended to go on for too long in the past.
“A six-week pre-season is more than ample for professional players and that’s what we see ourselves as,” he said.
It would be the same in soccer or rugby where players are contracted. They wouldn’t have the extended pre-seasons we have in the GAA.
“I don’t think we need all the time we generally use to prepare, particularly now that clubs are enhancing their professionalism as well,” Kiely added.
The reigning league, Munster and All-Ireland champions took another lengthy break following the conclusion of the campaign last December and Kiely believes the time off will stand to them this season.
“When we get back in season it’s more difficult to dedicate time to those things and that life balance is important for us – that they are succeeding at life outside of hurling as well. We’ve only one or two blocks of training done but we’ve enough done that we still think we’ll be in pretty good shape in the league and at peak form come championship time.”
Connolly also claimed the return of club competition could present problems after it was pencilled in for a September start.
“That has been normal for Dublin recently anyway because we haven’t been starting until the end of the inter-county championship.
“But smaller clubs around the country don’t have floodlit grounds and are they going to have to train for their club championships in the dark? That’s a big question mark for me, but the All-Ireland finals being brought forward to February is welcome.”