Sebastian Coe once said all athletes are just one hamstring pull away from oblivion.
Michael Murphy's retirement early into Donegal's draw with Monaghan last weekend may have reminded Gaelic games of that scenario, only isn't necessarily reflective of the sudden increase in games in the pandemic-impacted season.
Professor Niall Moyna of the Department School of Health and Human Performance at Dublin City University has been observing patterns of player performance for over two decades now, and while teams may have missed out of regular pre-season training in the lockdown, the overall conditioning of players has never been better.
“People jump on this sort of thing every year,” says Moyna.
"It could be the fact Michael Murphy has already been playing 14 years straight with Donegal, it's simply an accumulation of things. The easy thing to jump on is that he got it early in the game, and it's still early in the season, but if you have a weak hamstring, and there could be lots of reasons for that, it doesn't matter whether it's early or late in the season. So I wouldn't be jumping to any conclusions on that.
“My concern would be that you cannot replicate the movement pattern of a game when you’re training or running around on your own. Even in terms of changing direction, you’re not imparting the same forces, and there’s no physical contact.
“So it’s very difficult to replicate that without matches, especially going into the higher level of Division One and Division Two. The players these days are also so much bigger and stronger, compared to say five years ago.
“Look at any team now, the chest on their jersey, their height, they’re all very big strong athletes. So the amount of physical contact they’re facing today is also much greater than at any time in the past.
“For me, it would have been ideal for them to have one or two games under their belt, challenge games, before starting the league, because that’s the sort of specificity you need for a big match day.
“Training will only get you so far, but can’t replicate the movement of match day. And I see it a bit even with St Vincent’s, even though we have more time that inter-county, and are starting back slower.”
Moyna has previously guided DCU to four Sigerson Cups, as well as being part of the Dublin backroom team that helped claim the breakthrough 2011 All-Ireland under manager Pat Gilroy.
Now back coaching with the St Vincent’s club, he sees some room for improvement when it comes to the pre-match warm-up.
Former Kerry football manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice posed the question on RTÉ's League Sunday if perhaps teams were sometimes left waiting too long after the warm-up: Moyna doesn't concur.
“No, look at other sports, in the Olympics say you could be sitting inside in the call-room, before the biggest race of your life. If you’re warmed up properly, you’ll maintain the benefits for 10, 15 minutes.
“I would have a concern about the intensity of the warm-up, teams doing too much, too soon. You don’t run out straight, and start sprinting. Or you see before some big games players sprinting out to do the warm-up. From some I’ve seen, they can be too intense early in, sending players into oxygen debt too quickly. It’s about give the body plenty of time to gradually warm up.”
Moyna is also adamant that playing three or even four weekends in succession shouldn’t be an issue.
“I make this argument every year, the ratio of training to matches is still far too great, then some people are giving out about playing three matches in a row.
“We’ve been trying to get rid of the training culture for years, you can’t have it every way. There’s absolutely no reason teams can’t play three or four weeks in a row, but because they miss some training sessions, they feel they’re missing out. But they don’t need all those sessions.
“Use the week to recover. Take the Tuesday night completely off. Instead there’s still that culture there ‘we have to be out two nights a week’, plus the weekend. So I don’t concur with that at all, I’ve been fighting for years for less training and more games.
“This year is a little bit of an outlier, because of Covid, but we still over-train for the ratio of games we get. As long as they recovery is right, there is no reason why teams can’t play these games.
“Of course it wasn’t a normal season, so we may see a little more of it [injury] this year, but again it’s nothing to do with playing one game after another. The issue was in the very beginning, where players didn’t get the specific condition work that they would have got in other ways.
“There just wasn’t time for it, given the scheduling of the season. But overall I think the conditioning of players now is better than it’s ever been, football and hurling, so I wouldn’t expect to see a plethora of injury, no.”