The reason Mick O'Dwyer ran his players into the ground had more thought behind it than people think
You can't do any piece of training nowadays without a school of thought scoffing at your lack of education.
The developments in sport science in the GAA have been an obvious factor in taking the games to a whole new level with far superior match-specific athleticism on view and better care for players, especially for those who are still playing for nine teams at once.
But, more and more, opposing papers, different theories and obscure qualifications are causing fractions even within this one element of sport and anyone who's attended so much as a nutrition class now think that they know the best way to train. The optimal way. And they won't be shy in telling you.
Mick O'Dwyer knew back in the 70s and 80s that distance running wasn't the most relevant activity for Gaelic footballers. Having won four All-Irelands as a player with Kerry, having scored the most points in two championship campaigns, he was always an advocate of the very simple idea that footballers should train to get better with a football. But he didn't mind testing a player's mettle every year.
The Micko documentary which received unanimous praise on RTE last year gave an insight into one of the game's great minds. O'Dwyer had confidence, he had poise but he had a deep understanding of how to win and he carried that with him into the most successful management career of all time.
This clip never made the documentary but it sums up the great man's training methods https://t.co/8PTsVR3cKM
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) January 8, 2018
But time changes men and even the great Micko was questioned later in his career.
Modern day players - some of them at least - wondered if his methods were too old-fashioned, out of date, and if they were getting the best out of themselves.
Mick O'Dwyer's test drew a solid line.
The story from Willie McCreery in the documentary told of Kildare boasting 60 or 70 lads for training. A few weeks into the O'Dwyer regime and that was cut in half.
That's when the Kerry great knew he was finding the players who wanted it.
“That’s the way you’ll test the mentality of a player, distance stuff," Mick O'Dwyer told SportsJOE of his methods.
"In any other little tricks around, they’ll escape it or get away with it but if he’s a player that will give you 100 per cent, he’ll go the distance. That’s why we got to where we were with Kildare, with the amount of work we did at The Curragh. We did a pile of work at The Curragh.
“I’m still a big believer in it. But you must play plenty of football. There is a time to do the distance stuff, which is very important. It shows you the calibre of the player that you have. It was for mental reasons more than it was for physical reasons.
“The belief that you can stay going forever. Sure some of our players, Spillane and Jacko, they’d run all day for you. Up and down the field all day long. That’s what you need in players.
“I remember one All-Ireland final, our goalkeeper got injured and where was Spillane? He was on the goal line and the next minute he was up front scoring a point. But all that came from hard work, distance stuff. Belief. That comes with distance training, I don’t care what anybody would tell me. I would still do that today. But playing plenty of football as well."