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Ambition and drive of the modern era meant last orders had to be called

By Peter Canavan

I was reading about the Lions and the criticism of their decision to take a few days off in the build-up to this morning's decisive third Test against the All Blacks.

Pictures emerged on social media of a couple of them having a beer while taking in the sights of Queenstown and the conversation went over and back about whether it was the right thing to do.

New Zealand flanker Jerome Kaino reckoned he'd "rather be training".

The Lions justified it by saying they had done the same when they won the series in Australia. We'll only find out if it was the right move this morning.

It got me thinking back to when I started playing with Tyrone and how different things were.

The Lions have been on tour for more than a month now and it's only now that some of them are breaking out. In my early days with Tyrone, all we needed was one night away.

Dara Ó Cinnéide's excellent show 'GAA Nua' highlights the depths teams are going to find an extra inch. It gives a great insight into the extraordinary lengths people go to to play our games, even at club level.

These days, every minute of an away league match, from when you get on the bus to when you get off it, is accounted for.

There are rub-downs, tactical work, video sessions and stretching. There's even a plan around your eating and sleeping schedule. Nothing is left to chance.

It was very different in the early 1990s. The rule of thumb was that anything more than a two-hour drive away meant an overnight stay.

You could see the boys getting excited when the league fixtures were made and we were drawn away to, say, Laois or Mayo.

It wasn't necessarily the thoughts of the game that got them going, it was more that it meant a big night in Portlaoise or Castlebar before the match.

That led to its own complications. I remember one morning a search party going out to locate a missing midfielder.

Someone eventually found him asleep in a cupboard in the hotel kitchen. Other men were caught in fire escapes or shooing visitors out the window of their room.

Another night, one of our star players had a guest in his room. When he woke up in the morning, he discovered his guest decided they needed a little memento and made off with all his gear, including his football boots. A sheepish call to the kit man followed.

Looking back on it now, it was a strange way of getting on. We'd train hard during the week and then go for pints the night before the game. You won't find that in any coaching manual but it is just the way things were. I suppose it was the team bonding of its time.

The night out before a league match was a big thing for almost every county in those days. Teams did it when they came up to play us in Omagh or Dungannon.

Some of them would stay in the Glenavon Hotel in Cookstown and others who didn't fancy the journey over the border stayed in Monaghan and travelled to the venue the next day.

There were a few Sundays when I'd shake hands with my opponent and instantly get the whiff of wintergreen and Jack Daniels. I knew then I was in for a handy 70 minutes. I assume that doesn't happen to corner-forwards now.

The culture has changed dramatically. I noticed it first with Tyrone when the successful under-age sides started joining the senior squad.

They brought a new type of ambition and drive. Now, there's not even a question of fellas having a pint at a time when it might affect their football.

I don't remember Mickey Harte ever enforcing a drink ban. I don't think you should have to. If you're serious about playing you'll do whatever it takes. Not having a drink is just one part of that.

In recent years, Roscommon were one county with a reputation for being lads who liked a party.

One infamous incident stuck with them but being honest I don't think they were much different or wilder than anyone else.

They just got caught.

Belfast Telegraph


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