Anthony Daly: Commitment, culture, and craic: The value of GAA training camps

Unlike other counties, we’ve never had a history of amalgamations in Clare. The last amalgamated team to contest a senior hurling final was St Brendan’s in 1979, which was made up of players from Kilmaley, Doora-Barefield and, Our Lady’s Hospital.
Anthony Daly: Commitment, culture, and craic: The value of GAA training camps
NEXT GENERATION: Dessie Jones, aged 5, from Mungret, Co. Limerick, has his eyes glued to the warm-up prior to the Co-op Superstores Munster SHL clash earlier in the season between Clare and Limerick at O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge.  	Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
NEXT GENERATION: Dessie Jones, aged 5, from Mungret, Co. Limerick, has his eyes glued to the warm-up prior to the Co-op Superstores Munster SHL clash earlier in the season between Clare and Limerick at O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

UNLIKE other counties, we’ve never had a history of amalgamations in Clare. The last amalgamated team to contest a senior hurling final was St Brendan’s in 1979, which was made up of players from Kilmaley, Doora-Barefield and, Our Lady’s Hospital.

Sixmilebridge beat them in that final and, while St Brendan’s were never heard of again, the name, and the novelty, stuck in my head.

When I was the manager of Clare in the mid-2000s, we were in Portugal on a training week in 2005 when I decided to revive the concept, albeit in a far more novel way. We were selecting teams for a seven-a-side soccer tournament and I put all the Doora-Barefield and Kilmaley lads on one side. The two clubs were very strong at the time, having both reached the previous year’s county final. Even though all of his father’s people come from Kilmaley, Seanie McMahon wasn’t too impressed when I made him captain of St Brendan’s.

It was just great craic, which we always had any time we went away on those training camps. Lads couldn’t be out drinking so they had to come up with ways of keeping themselves amused outside of training.

Anytime we went away with the Dubs, management used to make the lads put on a play. The lads loved the concept because it was their one and only chance to have a right cut at management — in a funny way — during the season.

I used to really enjoy those trips, even though they were never a handy holiday. You’d get the sun on your back alright but you were trying to use every minute possible to plan and prepare for what was coming. As well as talking gameplans and strategies with coaches and selectors, you’d be discussing injuries with physios, and numbers with statisticians, but you’d also be trying to connect with players on an individual basis.

Everyone got so much out of it. I’ll never forget Colin Lynch approaching me at the airport and shaking my hand after we returned from that trip in 2005. “Thanks, Dalo,” he said, “for letting me live and train like a professional for a week.”

Limerick lived that life this week, having just returned from a training camp in Portugal. Despite the weather, I’m sure they’ll be hopping off the ground tomorrow, and for the next few weeks. They could have trained two or three times a day, every day, under a baking sun on a pitch resembling a carpet.

Meanwhile, every other team was up to their ankles in mud, if some sides could even get a pitch to train on.

I’m sure the personable stuff, especially those one-on-ones, was just as invaluable. There are young lads on the panel that John Kiely doesn’t know that well but, who I’m sure he got to know a lot better last week.

I’d say the busiest person in the Limerick camp during the week was Caroline Currid.

That’s another side to it because not everyone has a performance coach. Not every side has a small army of statisticians, dieticians, sports psychologists, the best physios, just the best resources available.

When people say that too much money is being spent on inter-county teams, there are a number of ways of looking at that argument. The elite teams will spend money on preparation because, while a high performance culture doesn’t need to be driven by money, more money facilitates a greater level of high performance.

You don’t need money to work on your touch or to lift heavier weights but it’s not all about that stuff at inter-county level anymore.

Players are different. Their needs are different and, the more resources you have, the more capacity you have to unlock their potential.

The Dublin footballers have the best players but they also have the most professional set-up in football, because their county board has the most money, and the biggest sponsorship deal out there.

The Tipp hurlers are well catered for by Teneo. I’m sure JP McManus is leaving no stone unturned again this year in his pursuit to see Limerick win another All-Ireland. Going to Alicante last March on a training camp didn’t do Tipp any harm. You’ll see the bounce Limerick will get from their trip.

You’d wonder then do those teams have an advantage over almost every other side?

Some counties are going around scraping money together in their attempts to try and compete on that same level as Dublin, Limerick and Tipperary, which can’t be easy. It must be tricky for counties like Mayo, Cork and Galway, which are all saddled with serious debt.

This week has shown two sides to the whole money debate in the GAA. While Limerick are off in Portugal, the Galway county board are surely fretting over their game against Cork, and Tipperary’s match against Waterford.

Having the All-Ireland champions coming to town next weekend should be a nice little earner for the Galway county board. But if that game is a dead rubber, which it will be if Galway and Tipperary lose tomorrow, will the public bother showing up?

Even if only one team loses, the match loses some of its credibility because one side has nothing to play for, which will affect the attendance.

The Tipp crowd will hardly travel in those circumstances. The Galway crowd are so fickle that they could decide on a whim to almost boycott the match.

So if a potential crowd of 10,000 is now suddenly down to 2,000, how much of a shortfall does that leave the county board with?

And in turn, does that have a knock-on effect for the team’s preparations, especially when they might be looking for a two-day training camp before the championship.

Although they were away this week, Limerick will still more than likely have one of those mini-camps before they play Cork in May. So does money make a difference? You can bet your bottom dollar that it does.

The postponed games have been fixed now for next weekend but I felt this weekend was the perfect opportunity to play them. Before those rearranged fixtures were released on Wednesday, I was wondering if the reason they delayed settling on dates for those games was that they were waiting to see how the league was panning out.

Would those games matter? Binning them, as what happened with some Division 4 Football games last year, may have been on the agenda. But the GAA also realise the perilous situation that Galway are already in, and how valuable every euro is to them.

The Galway players will only be focused on themselves, and not on the county board, but after successive defeats to Limerick and Waterford, they’ll want to get back on the horse with a win, which they should secure against Cork.

I also expect Tipp to beat Waterford, which would nicely tee up that game against Galway next weekend.

The other group is more or less done and dusted. Even if the Dubs were to beat Clare in Ennis, they need Wexford to lose, which isn’t going to happen against Carlow in Wexford Park.

You’ll get a good Clare crowd in Ennis because, with all due respect to Carlow and Laois, this is their biggest home game to date of the season.

Let’s just hope the weather will allow the games to go ahead this weekend.

Ireland is a great place. But it would better again if we had a retractable roof covering the country.

Especially for hurling matches.

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