HOW ST VINCENTS ARE SETTING THEIR OWN BENCHMARK.
IT’S 26 months since St Vincent’s last lost a championship football match – a Dublin SFC quarter-final against Ballymun Kickhams in Parnell Park on October 12, 2012.
In a county championship newly-famed for its intense levels of competition and ultra high quality, and through a provincial and national campaign that necessitates the negotiation of both unfamiliar assignments and the changing of the seasons, the obvious question is: how?
“As soon as they got the winning of the All-Ireland out of their system, we took a break for most of the summer,” outlines Vincent’s selector, Neil Curran.
“Which we needed to do because we were on the road for such a long time.
“So we took a break. And I think we really only started back in September.
“And because they had a break, it really put it up to them. It was going to be a hard test to see would they be really up to it.
“But you see from the time they turn up for training and the intensity of every training session, they’re the clues that the team is really serious about what it wants to achieve.”
The team’s vice-captain, Hugh Gill, takes up the point from a playing perspective.
“We had matches during the summer but I don’t think we were training as much,” he recalls.
“We have a good strength and conditioning coach and he had a good plan for us. It was just about maybe changing training slightly.
“We had a fresh approach. We did a bit of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) this year just to change things slightly and keep it fresh.”
If the first question is how? A more pertinent question may be is: why? In an era when the football commitment/real life balance has teetered to tipping point and during a time when even elite inter-county teams find the act of putting All-Irelands back-to-back near impossible, why did they all come back for more?
Surely an All-Ireland club title is an end in itself, rather than a vehicle through which to approach greatness, the precipice towards which Vincent’s are now steadily gaining.
From the management side of things, the decision towards continuation was based on simple factor.
“What made up our minds was not our (management) ambition but the ambition of the team themselves,” Curran says.
“Because always, the real test after winning an All-Ireland is whether the team feel that that’s it. That their job is done.
“It’s so rare to win it that it’s fantastic on its own,” he points out. “But I think there is an ambition amongst this group of players that they don’t feel that they’ve achieved their potential and because they haven’t, they want to have another go and have another crack at it.
“And to be honest, once we saw that we wouldn’t have to overcome the challenge of hunger, then the decision was made much easier. And they’re working just as hard as last year, if not harder.”
“They’re just a little bit tighter as a group because they have another year playing with each other. That was it really.
“The answer to the question is, the ambition comes from the team. Their desire, their need almost, to do the best that they can do. And what they’re saying to us at the moment is, they’re not finished.”
All of which begs the last question – can they do it again?
Or, as a clue towards solving the above: are St Vincent’s any better than they were last year?
“I think what you have a year later is, with a year more experience, everything becomes a bit more unconscious,” Curran explains.
“They know where they’re going to be. They know before they deliver a ball who’s going to be where, who’s going to be in front of them, who is going to be behind them.
“So you have a year more of an understanding of their roles and year more of an understanding of what everyone’s roles are and that become unconscious.
“But as per Garycastle, that can come off the rails as well. And take the foot off the pedal.
“And that was something nobody was particularly happy with after the Garycastle game,” stresses Curran.
“But when you work at it, you get to a point when it’s just natural.
“And I think that’s where we are at the moment at our best.
“When we’re at our best, everything is natural and instinctive.