DICK CLERKIN: Turning up the heat as Championship kicks into gear

Towards the end of last year, I realised that if I was to have any chance of continuing to perform at the highest level, then things would have to change.

Firstly, I needed to get a handle on my time management, something I now know I suffered from last year. With a wedding and honeymoon taking up December and January, I forfeited my close season for a heavy training regime, to the point where I was probably in better shape walking up the aisle on Christmas week than I was out in Omagh last summer! Adjusting my lifestyle habits to allow me to meet my professional and personal commitments whilst continuing to train and perform at the highest level was my first priority. Early rises, balanced breakfasts, a fruit and vegetable-packed diet and lunchtime gym sessions became the norm. Earlier bed times and no late night trash TV were also part of the new regime. Never underestimate the importance of sleep; it’s keys to recovery. If you’re not getting seven hours a night, you will pay the price.

Championship preparation is always fraught with danger, with the period between the end of the league and first round the most intense. In recent weeks, an assault course of heavy field training, club fixtures and inter-county challenges has been negotiated.

This year’s preparation was no different to any other; six weeks of intense training, 5,000 car miles, seven club games and three county challenge matches later, I thankfully found myself heading into yesterday’s opener against Antrim injury free. In Ulster the first round is always full of surprises, so regardless of form, the mood in the camp will always be a mix of optimism and trepidation.

Like every other county, Championship week training focuses on sharpening up and getting yourself focused on the task at hand. The equilibrium between maintaining a cutting edge and not picking up any late injuries can prove a tricky tightrope. During the ‘run up’, seeing a team-mate break down in training or challenge match is very hard. Players, at all levels, train with the Championship in their mind’s eye. To miss out through an ill-timed injury is gut wrenching. It was just this week I realised that I have started every Championship game for Monaghan since 2004; nine years unbroken service. So whilst I might not be the most decorated footballer around, I can safely say I am one of the most durable.

The Saturday before the game I usually just try and head away with Alison somewhere quiet for bite to eat. Hanging around the house generally sets the mind racing and it’s good to avoid any pre-match talk. Afternoon tea in the Slieve Russell was a favourite for a few years there. Saturday past, once this column was filed, a barbecue at my parent’s house provided ample respite.


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