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Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney is still living the dream - for now

By Declan Bogue

If you are still undecided on the great debate at present about whether players are being exploited, or living the dream, then good. You should be.

Because both sides of the argument are not without solid points.

Should you be weary of the discussion, you might be drawn to the position of Kieran McGeeney, who spoke eloquently on the subject at the launch of the leagues.

"People made it out that I had a dour existence, but I think it was them who had the dour existence. Because there was no passion, or love, for what they were doing. If they didn't want to be there, go home. I loved it. I couldn't wait to get to training. With Marsden to knock the b***ix out of me. We had good times," he said.

It is hard to disagree with McGeeney on this. The Mullaghban man has always been very quotable and this kind of rhetoric has tinges of the famous Roosevelt quote that his team mate Aidan O'Rourke once sent him and he kept underneath his reading mat in his Irish Sports Council office: "…who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause…"

Understandably, Armagh's new manager is miffed at reports of double training sessions and an apparent commando regime since he took over from Paul Grimley.

He was able to mount the irrefutable defence that his players were actually enjoying the hospitality at Charlie Vernon's wedding on one of the days they were supposed to be training twice.

Why do young men put themselves forward for a place on their county team? Because like McGeeney, they love it. The training is necessary for improvement and progression, otherwise they would regress and in that instance, it would be a waste of everyone's time.

Shortly after he won the All-Ireland as a player in 2002, McGeeney encapsulated his Quixotic journey, saying: "When somebody tells you all your life that something is beyond your reach, that it's impossible, that you'll never get there, and then you do, well - there's that feeling that the work and toil that you put yourself through for 13 or 14 years has all come to fruition."

When you can sell a vision so well, then anyone would row in.

Now, there is some merit in the concern that our games have gone too far, in some senses.

We have heard the horror stories of players on a few club underage teams, development squads, county minor and schools teams. No doubt there is too much representative football and hurling for teenagers.

The 'win at all costs' attitude that is apparently poisoning the game is merely a matter of perception though.

In recent times, Irish teams in most sports have reached for dog-eared copies of Pat Riley's 'The Winner Within', adopted certain catchphrases and will have a member that can accurately recite the 'Any Given Sunday' speech.

For most though, these elements of preparing a team are mere touchstones and a tool of unity. Somewhere in the argument, examples of ugly behaviour have been cited as if this was an entirely new concept and that our games before the Celtic Tiger were demonstrations of all that is fair and sporting in the psyche of the Gael.

Apart from the off-the-ball elbows across the nose, the broken jaws and all manner of corner-boy antics so vividly illustrated in the 'Crime and Punishment' chapter of Shane Curran's autobiography 'Cake'.

If we drill down all the manufactured outrage about the rigidity and drudgery of modern-day training regimes, what we are left with is a concern over injuries.

But clubs and counties are becoming better at diagnosing and recognising this.

It is through the importing of professional practices in our amateur sport that we can nail this issue.

Two examples. Nowadays when Antrim footballers turn up for a training session, their highly-respected strength and conditioning coach Mick McGurn will hook them up and take a few heart readings and the like. If he doesn't like what he sees, they will be sent home for a more beneficial night's rest.

At grassroots level, the revolution is trickling down.

In our club, for the first time we are being asked about our flexibility.

After a number of tests were conducted, the one thing emerging was that there are an inordinate amount of players in our club with hip and back stiffness. As a result, we have found ourselves lying on the floors of halls and on pitches positioning our bodies in entirely new formations to loosen out the hips.

I imagine our statistics would be broadly representative of the overall playing population.

But we are getting there. Bit by bit. No need to panic.

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