Ten years ago, Michael Murphy unfolded a sheet of paper on the steps of St Tiernach’s Park, Clones before accepting the Anglo-Celt Cup after beating Derry in the Ulster final.
In that characteristically thorough way of his, he went through and thanked all the various people that had got him and his team-mates to this point. He named nine figures who could be said to have been involved in team preparation, before moving onto the medical team.
Some names are instantly recognisable, such as Maxi Curran. Others are well-respected for their expertise, such as the strength and conditioning of Adam Spiers and Paul Fisher.
But let’s get real about the thing. That Donegal team was managed and coached by Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher. Others might have been permitted to speak and offer suggestions, but it came down to those two men, even leading and taking part in the warm-up before games on the biggest of days.
When McGuinness was selling his vision to Rory Kavanagh on how he could transform himself from a lightweight wing-forward to a bruising midfield powerhouse, it was McGuinness who drew up his initial weightlifting programme to start the process of bulking up.
Nowadays, the modern inter-county backroom team requires a bus before you even get to the players. When Dublin won the All-Ireland in 2016, there was a picture taken on the pitch of a backroom team of 23.
There were more that had assisted in their preparations who weren’t present for it.
It has been said that the present Tyrone set-up is a large one, but on a document produced by the county board for their post-All-Ireland function at the Armagh City Hotel on September 11, aside from the joint management of Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan there were only 20 names of support staff.
This included all the medical team and even administrators on the county board — certainly not among those who would be putting out cones or leading drills in a session.
Nowadays, the top clubs have support structures that are inching their way up to county levels. While a lot of outside help does not remain throughout the season, experts are being sought out for their input.
Take Derrygonnelly Harps, for example. Sean Flanagan is their long-serving manager and he is assisted by Paul Greene, Mick Glynn and Emlyn Burns.
Last year they lost the county final while going for six in a row. Some players will admit that they had become a little too comfortable, so they needed to rediscover their hunger.
Conor McCarroll, the force of nature running coach behind the Knockmany Running Group outside Augher, Co Tyrone, was brought in to put them through their paces. Derrygonnelly is not short of beauty spots and hills, and he took them running up to the Blackslee Waterfall, a 10k loop overlooking a spectacular expanse of Lough Erne.
The surface is rough, loose gravel. McCarroll told the players it would strengthen their ankles.
And as a by-product, strengthen their resolve.
Flanagan described his input after the county final win: “Conor came in this year and he did some great work with us, work that we probably wouldn’t have done before, and the boys knuckled down for seven or eight weeks and put in some serious hard work.
“I suppose when you are doing that work at the start of the year, it’s hard for lads to see where you are going to get the benefit of it. But on days like this when the pressure is on, it’s in the tank.”
Another area that needed a rethink was their tactical approach. Flanagan has a nephew who lives in Ballyshannon and they approached Shane Ward, an Aodh Ruadh man who has managed Donegal minor and Leitrim senior teams in the past, to come on board as a coach.
“He is an excellent man, has a great way with the lads, a great drive within him and he has a great football brain on him. He has done some great work with the boys all year and you would see it in games where the boys bring it into the games,” said Flanagan.
Conall Jones echoed that, stating: “What he brought to us was exceptional. A lot of learning went into our style of play this year. With tactics, a philosophy or style of play, it really improved us as a team.
“If you look at us, we had a lot of young boys in this year, a lot of coaching going on.”
Expectations as to how to prepare teams have exploded in recent times.
While in 2011 Donegal used GPS monitoring devices, they were only for training, not matches.
They are now omnipresent. A couple of years ago, a player in Tyrone was getting ready to come on in the dying moments of a match for his club’s third string team, when a GPS reader was stuffed into his jersey.
All these advances in technology are mind-blowing and it is tempting to think where we might be in another 10 years.
But it always comes back to one thing — hard work on a mucky pitch or the loose gravel of a forest park. Without that, you have nothing at all.
Running is still the key to getting a team fit.
As well as running around the mountain drives, Derrygonnelly captain Ryan Jones also credited Ward for the work they did running from the 21-yard line on the pitch to the far 21-yard line, and back again. Over and over, until the point of exhaustion.
A few years ago when Maghery made the breakthrough in the Armagh Championship, they credited the work they had done in tramping the pavements of Lurgan to avail of streetlights.
On those evenings there were a few smart remarks made to the Maghery players as they embarked upon a winter training programme with their running coach, the former middle-distance prospect Gary O’Hanlon, who was set to take up an athletics scholarship with Iona College in America before he fell victim to a road accident while out on a training run in 1992.
Like O’Carroll, though, he got them to the promised land.