An off-season start, full returning crowds and more games – but what impact will that have on players?
The Championship which kicks off on the Easter weekend after a spell of particularly cold weather will take some getting used to and, for some, they may never quite get there.
It has been a disruptive few years for the GAA’s flagship competitions, with this weekend marking the first time since Dublin beat Kerry in the All-Ireland football final replay in September 2019 that the only crowd restriction for championship games will be the capacity of a pitch.
In the meantime, the Championship has started in October and June and now moves to April with an All-Ireland final in July for the first time since 1908 when the delayed 1907 Football Championship was finally completed.
But while all of this may confuse fans of the game and their routines to varying degrees, will it have a significant impact on gamers?
It certainly shouldn’t, says Shane O’Sullivan, a former Waterford pitcher and psychologist who specializes in high performance coaching for business and sport through his company “Inspiring Excellence”.
“It’s the story that the player tells himself, in the end,” he says. “I don’t think any player at the highest level tells himself a negative story about this weekend.
“I think they’re going to focus on it’s great to play games, it’s great to have a championship to play. If you think about the last couple of years in the context of Covid, it doesn’t there weren’t even crowds at the matches.
“I don’t think that’s a negative connotation for a player and if it is he would want to reframe his mindset pretty quickly because at the end of the day if you come in with a negative point of view and pessimistic about this weekend, I don’t think it will help them.
The round robin format returns to hurling this year and while Munster have eliminated counties due to play three successive weekends, Leinster have ensured that those in this scenario will only do so against a team in the same situation, thus eliminating any perceived disadvantage that the 2018 and 2019 championship schedules have been cancelled.
But O’Sullivan insists that, from a psychological standpoint, playing a high volume of games in a relatively short period of time is doable.
“In my experience with athletes from different sports, many of whom are professional athletes, they go away three days, so I don’t think it’s a psychological challenge.
“As long as they have time to recover the day after a game and they recover well. If you’re dealing with players who are under pressure in their own lives from a job perspective and from a family view, it is a different challenge and one that must be taken up.
“If you look at the demographics of a county player now, they’re young, they’re either teachers or they’re in college, they have space.
“Relatively few of them are married, few of them have kids, so they have the space to be able to come down on Monday or Sunday after a game and get back on their feet for Tuesday. I don’t think it’s as bad a problem as people make it out to be honest.
The structure of the League and its proximity to the Championship, with both competitions containing a round-robin element, has led to lukewarm fixtures this spring, although Waterford moved past that and won the League title earlier this this month. Does this present any conundrum for O’Sullivan’s former teammates as Tipperary comes to Walsh Park tomorrow?
“I see a challenge from a Waterford perspective because they’re dealing with something different to what they’ve done in the past in terms of being really scorching favorites in a game against Tipperary. , which is a hurling power.
“Tipperary have had several weeks to prepare for a game and focus on it and do intensive training when Waterford play games.
“The challenge Waterford face at the weekend is whether they are fresh and how do they manage that mental frame of being favourites, big favourites, in their own backyard in a Munster Championship campaign .”
And while Limerick stuttering in the League has raised questions about their stamina after dominating the pitch in recent years, O’Sullivan says it’s manna from heaven for John Kiely.
“I think Limerick is in a perfect scenario. They now have a motivation they never had. After last year’s All-Ireland, Limerick were touted as one of the best teams ever, then moved on a few months later and it’s not talked about at all.
“They really will have been able to adapt to a Munster championship, so I think it’s a perfect scenario for Limerick.
“I think they will get there. They will have the energy, they will have the motivation and I think whoever beats Limerick will probably win the All-Ireland. They are still the big favourites.