Lack of challenge games, generating contact fitness and having to cut squads quickly were among the chief concerns for otherwise giddy inter-county managements as their teams resumed collective training on Monday evening.
Limerick and Tipperary footballers and Dublin hurlers were among those senior panels who came back at the first opportunity. Limerick manager Billy Lee was “buzzing” like his players in Rathkeale but with their Division 3 South campaign three-and-a-half weeks away there was a seriousness to their opening night.
“We would usually come back in November after the previous summer and lads wouldn’t be that focused, just happy to be in each other’s company, talking and catching up. That was less obvious last night.
“Fellas know the games are coming soon and there was more focus and they have to prepare. We’re trying to build in Limerick and they’re a good bunch of lads.
They know there is an onus on backing up last season and the determination to do that is there.
Tipperary coach and former Dublin full-back Paddy Christie reported similar in Thurles and was glad to sense the afterglow of winning an historic Munster SFC last year remains as much as the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo hurt the group. “It’s over five months now since Tipp beat Cork but that buzz is there and you could pick up on it and we have to build on it.”
Partly because panels are being instructed by Croke Park to cut their panels to 32 for expenses reasons, management will have to cull players pretty soon and Christie knows it’s one of the necessary evils of the truncated season.
“Every county is seeing a new panel including many lads they wouldn’t have seen and they’re going to have to cut their panel fairly soon, which is so unfair. It’s not as if there is anything underhand and we’re delighted to be back training but with this comes a lot of restrictions comes a lot of pain for people.
“There are thorny things there you have to deal with. Bringing in a big panel of players, having four league games and then you could be out after one championship game — that’s tough going.
But then the alternative was we would go the whole summer without anything.
Hours before they were drawn to face Antrim in a Leinster quarter-final, Mattie Kenny gathered his players together for the first time on a field since their 2020 SHC exit to Cork.
“It was the first night back so you got to be conscious of not doing too much but the excitement of being back was huge. We went out in early November last year so it’s five and a half months since we were last out on a field.
“The big thing is getting them used to contact now. You could run or go to the gym every day for two years and it wouldn’t prepare you for a rattle so that action fitness is the next stage and we’ll work them towards that step by step.”
Like so many managers, Lee hopes the Government will allow challenge games after the Bank Holiday weekend prior to the start of the National League. “The biggest disappointment for me is that we aren’t allowed any challenge games. Look, I don’t think it’s right.
"Other sports were afforded the opportunity to have such games in pre-season and I think we should be too. Beggars can’t be choosers in some way but we should be allowed to play challenge games.”
Lee wasn’t awake when on Monday morning Limerick were drawn to face Waterford in a second successive Munster quarter-final — “my phone let me know about it soon after, though. We’ve played Waterford a lot in the last number of years so I’m always conscious you have to come up with something different.
“But it’s always about the league for us and getting a good run going and building on what we’re doing and hopefully bringing some momentum into the Munster championship.”
A primary school principal whose sterling work at under-age level in Ballymun Kickhams is known across the country, Christie hopes next Monday’s start date for children to return to collective club training does not come too late for some.
“With juveniles, they should have been back to sports a lot quicker and there has been a lot of damage done. The fact that kids have not been allowed to come together to play has been really disappointing and a travesty that they weren’t out on pitches and courts in March and April.”
Meanwhile, Kenny praised Conal Keaney who announced his inter-county retirement on Monday after 20 seasons between football and hurling.
A fantastic servant to Dublin GAA who achieved so much on the hurling field. Conal couldn’t have done more for his county. His commitment and longevity were incredible.