Farewell, then, to the Celtic Tiger boom of the warm-weather training camp. A victim, perhaps, of unintended consequences after GAA Congress decided to vote overwhelmingly in favour of a split county-club season.
For most, time has become too tight. Take, for example, the defending All-Ireland champions, Tyrone. They finished their league campaign just 10 days ago with a victory over Kerry in Killarney and are next out on the first step of their bid to retain Sam Maguire on April 16, against Fermanagh.
It remains a curiosity that Tyrone were one of the very few counties who never had a warm-weather training camp.
While all their neighbours packed their passports, former boss Mickey Harte steadfastly refused to join in on the craze, preferring instead to bring his side down to the likes of the University of Limerick facilities or to Carton House for pre-Championship camps.
The idea of a team going away first came about after a masterstroke by then Meath manager Sean Boylan, who in the thick of their four-game series against Dublin in 1991 brought the Royals to Scotland for a midweek stint to help shower their heads and get them out of that bubble.
Under Páidí ÓSé, Kerry were early pioneers of the practice, but it exploded in popularity after Armagh went to La Manga in 2002.
Soon after returning, their team bus was inching up the Clones hill to the famous old ground to meet Tyrone in the first game of that Ulster Championship. The players inside could hear the bangs delivered to the side of the bus, along with the rider of some smart comments along the lines of, ‘Show us your suntans, lads!’
As that game neared its conclusion, Richard Thornton was gifted a late chance but blazed it wide. If he had have hit the net, the entire warm-weather training camp industry might have floundered in that moment.
As it was, they secured their first All-Ireland four months later and a host of teams were soon following their lead.
Ex-Kerry manager Jack O’Connor wrote in his revealing autobiography of their trip to Browns Complex in Portugal that later yielded an All-Ireland in 2006: “Under the sun, you can slow everything down. You’re not standing around in the rain and the wind with fellas straining to hear what’s being said and wondering what they can get away with for the night.
“There’s gyms, pools, tracks and wonderful pitches. The lads stay in chalets, hanging in each other’s companies for the week.”
So what is left in its place? It’s all gone a bit lo-fi again.
We are back into the world of pre-Championship challenge matches. Opposing managers have always held an obsession of how these go and grabbing any scrap of information about them.
The truth is, there is little enough that can be learned from them. Even the performance of Mayo in losing the league final to Kerry last Sunday by 15 points showed us little of what might unfold if the two meet later in the year. It is no stretch to say that in some ways, the nature of the defeat meant that Mayo manager James Horan learned an awful lot.
Analysis of Gaelic Games is dominated by ‘recency bias’; a behaviour habit that favours recent events over historic events. Almost everything that is said is shaped by the most recent result and takes away all the variables such as injury (Mayo had four key players missing from the league final, for example).
Still, that does not stop management teams clamouring for any tid-bit around these games. What players played? What positions were they in? How about their tactical shape?
Lengths have been gone to in order to ensure confidentiality around these games. Almost a decade ago, one prominent Ulster county were playing Roscommon in a challenge game. For the northern manager, there were too many bodies hanging around for his liking who could carry stories back.
He ordered his players to all get back on the bus and was for heading home until a full sweep of the ground was done, ejecting everyone who wasn’t directly involved with the two teams.
Right now, mind games are in full swing. It’s never been as intense. Proper Championship.