You probably saw the video posted online over the past few days of Conor McGregor ribbing the Cork senior footballers as both made their way home from Portugal.
McGregor was after some warm weather training ahead of his rematch with Nate Diaz when he bumped into the Cork panel at the airport — who were after putting down a similar five days’ of hard graft under the blistering sun at the Oceanico resort in Amendoeira.
“Ye still won’t beat the Dubs” he bellowed in jest… but that’s the whole point I guess. You’ve got to try.
That’s why Cork went, and why Kerry will go later in the month. It may just give you an edge. It might just close the gap. At the very least it gives players the perception that every avenue is being exhausted to be the most that they can be.
My first experience of a camp with Kerry was a little less flashy than the 5-star golf resort in the Algarve. Páidí Ó Sé brought us across on the ferry from Tarbert to Clare for a weekend. But it turned into more bonding than training. And by bonding, I mean drinking.
In modern GAA, these foreign trips have become as popular as tight jerseys and skinny jeans… a must-have for any self-respecting county with serious ambition of bringing home a big prize in the summer.
As soon as you step off the plane at Faro international airport with a bunch of lads, the warm air hits you, and for just a few seconds you forget you’re there for hardship and not pleasure. The rest of the crowd on the flight are heading out on the town to make ‘happy hour’ in ‘The Irish Cabin’, while you’re rushed out to the waiting bus for the short trip out to the resort to make sure you get in two training sessions on day one. No wasted time.
Once you get to the resort, you drive through the two championship golf courses inside the gates and up past the par 3 track and on towards the plush apartments that will be your home for the next five nights. Four players per unit. With Kerry, they always liked to mix up the rooming list and get guys who wouldn’t be familiar with each other sharing. It was always a good way of getting to know lads who wouldn’t normally be in your immediate circle at home.
Because of the flight times and travel involved, the first day is normally a two- session day, but three-a-day ones fill the rest of your week. Where we were, the training field is a two-minute bus trip away from accommodation and the same from food at the main hotel.
The field itself has a beautifully manicured surface, equipped with proper football posts, but shorter than standard. The heat somehow had a way of making it feel like a bigger field than Croke Park.
The first session kicked off around 7.30am every morning and was normally the hard running portion of the day. The sun was still only creeping its way up and the endurance stuff was slightly more bearable before the temperatures soared.
They used to have a temporary marquee set up for us just off the main field that was a fully stocked gym with spinning bikes, weights and an open space for stretching work. It was like an Oasis in the desert.
The waiting shuttle bus whisks you straight up to the hotel for food, then back to the apartment for a shower and back to bed for a few hours. During camp, you really develop a greater appreciation of how valuable sleep is in the recovery process.
Our second instalment of the day was usually our main football session around 1 o’clock. The sun was at its highest and temperatures always made sure any game was physically challenging and came with a big fitness bonus.
Later in the evening was our third time togging out in the day, and was usually for our gym session.
Weights, core work, functional movement. As the week progressed, and the bodies got more fatigued, this session would become our tactical walk-throughs. For example, you might look at a few set plays, side-lines, kick-outs and the like.
By the time you’ve eaten, refreshed your body in the pool, and got back to your apartment, there wasn’t a whole pile of energy left in the legs to do much else besides crash in front of TV.
All in, you’re talking about between 12 – 14 sessions over the course of the five days. Serious bang for your buck.
At the beginning of our foreign excursions, our last day always included a bit of the bonding like we enjoyed in Clare with Páidí all those years before. We’d train only twice and take the evening off and head into town for a meal and a few bottles of suds together. It was a tame few hours, just a release after a few hard days by a bunch of sun-burned Irish boys. We’d take over Figo’s bar down on the marina for a few hours before tiredness would eventually win out and fellas would drift back to the resort and their beds.
In the last few years, the fitness watchdogs got their way, and the end of week beers were banished and replaced by a 9-hole par 3 contest. They’d pair a golfer with a non-golfer, and it was a more scientifically appropriate approach to closing out the week.
Though, we did miss Figo’s, it certainly helped the body recover faster the following week, sans alcohol.
Those trips, while they were intense and difficult to get through at times, they were effectively acting as a microwave for your fitness and your football.
Fourteen sessions would take up the equivalent of aboutfive weeks of training with three sessions a week at home.
When you have guys in that professional camp mode, it’s easier to work on structural adjustments in your game plan. At chow times, there would always be one meal where you had to sit at your positional table. Defenders with defenders and so on.
One of the beauties of being away together in that environment, is that nobody is rushing off in their car five minutes after the last whistle, everybody has the time sit and talk. Whether about something specific on football or just shooting the breeze.
Last week will have done Peadar Healy and his troops the power of good. They will have had time to do some video work and really focus on the challenges that lie ahead.
Their fitness will have gained hugely and you’d imagine their level of organisation and understanding of the system their management want to play has gained some much needed conceptual clarity over the five days.
Like McGregor, Portugal is only a means to an end, it helps you compete, but guarantees you nothing.
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