Super 8s: Experts reveal secrets of success
The Super 8's. Twelve games across four weekends that determines who emerges as the All-Ireland football semi-finalists and a scenario most uncommon in any sporting environment when knock-out becomes a round-robin.
To get an insight into this intense period of football, we speak to some who took part in it last year to get their views on what is required; former Roscommon manager Kevin McStay, recently-departed Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke and Kildare's strength and conditioning coach Neil Welch.
Kevin McStay: There is no heavy training done. None at all. It's just skills training, 7 on 7, 4 versus 4, small sided games. Just working on your skills.
Malachy O'Rourke: On the Thursday night there would be a full session, but it wouldn't be physical. Working on areas that didn't go well the last day, things that need attention.
MO'R: Last year we finished up school on the last day in June and we went out for a bite to eat. I went home then and headed to a bus that night and stayed overnight in Leitrim as we were playing them the next day in the qualifiers. Immediately, we were into that. We won that game and the following weekend we played Laois. A week later we were in the Super 8's against Kildare. The whole thing just went week to week to week.
KMCS: You have to deal with logistics on a week to week basis, and of course you have to deal with your panel. You don't know who you are playing - you might book buses to Killarney but you could be playing in Omagh! I think of Sean Finnegan who looked after the logistics for me, I told him to get it all sorted and he said: "That's grand Kevin, but would you tell me who we are playing!"
You can't book hotels in three different locations to hold 40 odd rooms and then cancel them on a Monday.
Neil Welch: There are different ways of making sure you get the right amount of sleep. The most accurate way is to record it. We would use a system where lads can report their wellness every day, what sort of sleep they had and we track their training loads. We use a system called Metrifit. It's expected of players that before 11am they put in their information and we are able to respond to it then. So if you see a guy who is not going well, you can have a chat with him; is there something going on at home, is he unable to sleep for another reason, give him a bit of time out of training to help with recovery or help him outside of training to help him with stress. It's a conversation starter.
KMcS: It never ends. You can go to bed thinking, "right, this guy is not getting on the 26, I didn't like what I saw tonight, he let me down". And then you wake up, and he is starting in midfield. You are always trying to see the best in someone and thinking they can turn it around and get a bit more out of them.
MO'R: The recovery process starts straight away. The medical team, the physios and everything else is coming into play so the recovery process starts in the changing room after the game. Compression trousers, boots, different things like that, whatever is required to speed up that process. On the nutritional side of things, it all starts after the game.
NW: The main thing is forming good habits for the lads. The most important thing is recovery, sleep and nutrition. The evidence around the rest of the stuff is quite personal. If lads like being in the pool, then they tend to respond better to it. If they don't like it, they don't respond well to it. But the two things that are consistent across the board are sleep and nutrition. They are the main things to get right and then you manage your training off the back of that. Some cryotherapy, compression, a bit of support behind that with compression garments to put on and there are other things to put on like recovery trousers, a pump that fills the legs full of air. They put a squeeze on the legs.
MO'R: A lot of the analysis can be done with the players on the pitch as well, rather than sitting down. The analysis has to be quality, the important thing you want is to get across but you are not sitting for two hours doing it. You keep it sharp.
KMCS: The teams come out very late. Some counties don't let them off until matchday. So match-ups, who is going to be in, who is out, that can come to you very late in the day and that hinders your ability to get work done.
Suspensions and form
KMCS: Suspensions are a big one. If you have to go to Dublin on a Tuesday, as we had to, to defend a player, that is really eating into your week for him and for you.
MO'R: We would have had the players in on the weekend off. It wouldn't have been the two days or anything, but we would have played a game to see who was pushing for a place.