GAA Football

Counties will need 'minimum' five week pre-season before League start warns Cavan boss Mickey Graham

Mickey Graham celebrates with Padraig Faulkner in the wake of Cavan's Ulster Championship final victory over Donegal last November. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

A MINIMUM of five weeks’ pre-season training should be built into the GAA’s plans for the start of the inter-county season – meaning the National League wouldn’t commence until the latter half of May.

That is the view of Cavan boss Mickey Graham, who believes players across the country need more than the four weeks pre-season earmarked by the GAA in order to “acclimatise” to inter-county intensity after waiting in the wings for so long.

With the Irish government giving the green light for full contact training to resume from April 19 rather than the anticipated April 5 or 12, tentative plans to start the League on the weekend of May 8/9 will now be reconsidered as the GAA pulls together a fixture calendar and inter-county competition structures over the next week.

A five-week pre-season would force the start of the League back to the weekend of May 22/23, with the GAA also understood to be considering staging midweek League games in a bid to run the competition off more quickly due to the shortened inter-county window.

As those discussions go on among the Association’s top brass, however, Graham feels a rethink of the planned four-week pre-season should be factored in.

“I don’t think it’s enough – you need five weeks minimum, just to help the boys acclimitise back into that environment,” said the Cavan boss.

“Boys are doing a lot of stuff themselves but nothing can prepare them for getting out onto the football field, physical contact… it’s a totally different way of training compared to what they were doing on their own. You’d need a minimum of five weeks to get you ready, and that includes a couple of challenge matches.”

The Ulster champions’ last taste of competitive action was back on December 5 2020, while the likes of Monaghan and Tyrone haven’t played since the last weekend of October/first weekend of November due to the Championship’s knockout format.

Crucial to any planning too, Graham insists, is the fact that – unlike last autumn – players will be coming into county set-ups cold in terms of match preparation.

“That time boys were coming back match fit from clubs. Games at club level were coming week after week, they were chomping at the bit, enjoying it, so we would’ve felt that our lads came back sharp.

“It’s a totally different scenario we’re looking at here - you’re coming back cold really so you’re doing the basics and trying to get them tuned in as best you can.

“If a team went out of the Championship in October you’re talking six months without a competitive game, then four weeks training to go back in and play competitive football again? It is a big ask.”

With the calendar being squeezed again, it had previously been suggested that the League could be a casualty once plans were redrawn – but Graham insists that level of preparation is vital to get anywhere near Championship speed.

“Definitely, you need those games. Even last year when we came back and had our two League games, it wasn’t really enough. We could’ve done with another couple of games.

“There’s only so much training and conditioning lads can do, it’s match fitness they need. A lot of teams are going to come back in good shape so it’s going to be down to who can get up to that level the quickest.

“I’d imagine it’ll run with the League as planned, three League games, I don’t know if they’ll have a League final, and then two weeks later straight into Championship.”

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GAA Football