Champions are back in tip-top shape
Tipperary are now close to the peak fitness of last year's All-Ireland-winning campaign, according to team trainer Jim Kilty. Despite the slightly hurried start to the season because of the post-All-Ireland celebrations, Kilty believes Tipperary will start Sunday's Munster hurling final with Waterford practically as sharp and as fit as they were last September.
When Kilty joined the Tipperary set-up last year he introduced somewhat revolutionary training techniques based on speed, agility and quickness (the SAQ system). A year on the foundation of the training is the same, and with similar results.
"There hasn't really been any great change to the training this season," says Kilty. "It is another year and we have introduced a little more variety into the techniques, but most of it has been very similar to what it was last year.
"To be honest when they came back in March for testing the players were a little bit behind where they were the year before, obviously because of all the celebrations that came with winning the All-Ireland. But they caught up quite quickly and I believe the players have got themselves close to their peak now, so the rest will just depend on how much they want to win."
Other counties have adopted or experimented with the SAQ techniques, steering clear of the traditional endurance-type regimes, including the likes of the Offaly, Wexford and Limerick hurlers and the Donegal, Armagh, Cork and Sligo footballers.
"The fact is there is now very little difference between the basic fitness levels of all counties. The difference is in their sharpness, and how they're able to utilise their skills," says Kilty.
"I mean we've seen that a lot in the World Cup, with teams like South Korea and Turkey, who get their fitness up to certain level but also work a lot more on being able to execute and use their skill level on the day."
When it comes to hurling, Kilty believes those techniques of agility and quickness takes on even greater importance: "Definitely the use of skill is even more important in hurling than football. The desire and need to get to the ball first is a much greater factor in winning, as is the players' need to execute their natural skills.
"So the most important part of this training programme is to get the maximum possible skill out of the players, the sort of skills that they've been developing since schoolboy and minor level plus, of course, the skills that Nicky English wants them to work on."
Kilty is not necessarily predicting even greater levels of skill in this second year of using the techniques: "In hurling, and especially in the Munster hurling final, whoever scores the most points is going to win. Simple as that. And equally it's whoever has the most desire to win."