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Kevin McStay

Sport

Those that are sure they are in the know had briefed those who think they are in the know. The Mayo team would pay a high price for this relentless bagging of league points because they were just too fit for this time of the year!
The weekend in the rear mirror featured the latest version of the Dublin riots. Held in Parnell Park, the Dubs put a halt to our gallop and introduced a glimpse of reality. Our men in the know had explanations for that too; all the other teams were catching up and as the league races to a conclusion so too will the gap in fitness narrow to inches. And, anyway, Mayo have eased back – sure it’s obvious to even an untrained eye. As usual, we have this from the highest authority; all hush hush and strictly confidential you understand.
And come early summer, the difference between winning and losing will also be a matter of inches. Once again. And as the years go by, we will change to metric to describe the tiniest of advantage that will turn a game. The search for millimetres will be the latest cry.
It is true that every athlete and coach is engaged, to one degree or another, in this annual hunt for the thinnest of edges, the fraction of an inch or the paragraph of knowledge that will separate the winner from the loser in the ultra competitive age we find ourselves in.
GAA players are no different to other sports people. When I started out, it was felt stretching before a big game and a half decent warmdown after it might prove the difference. Then along came weights: bigger, stronger, faster. Diets and nutrition, physios and doctors. Throw in tackle bags, hurdles, harnesses, SAQ (Speed, Agility and Quickness) and in recent years the role of the psychologist. Meditation and ice baths quickly followed these and to bring the first era of searching to a close, Tyrone abolish the old challenge game – less is more, and all that.
So, what has all this to do with downtown Tbilisi in Georgia, a former soviet republic? Well, with the GAA in an off-season here in the old USSR I decided to visit with a view to learning their methods; after all they were the greatest Olympic success story of the last century.

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Now if anybody knew about inches, then these are the boys. And did I mention our Sports Editor was Stalin’s right hand man? Don’t care about the seven below, just want a result – 1,200 words comrade. ‘Orders is Orders!
Georgia always meant three things to me: warm weather, Masters Golf and southern US drawls. Thus my latest military mission was viewed from the category of ‘it’s a tough job but somebody has got to do it’.
When it is explained that this Georgia is currently freezing, is east rather than west, and swim trunks won’t be required, the mission changes smartly to ‘it’s a tough job so find somebody else’.
Swing up your arms soldier and get on with it! The Russian Georgia it is then; you know what I mean. Tbilisi, its capital, hosted many a party in the halcyon days of Jack’s Army and 0-0, 1-1 draws with the locals as we went to qualify for European or World Championships. I seem to remember our rugby team out here too following the old pre-qualification route to the next crooked ball World Cup.
If all this endeavour went before me, then there must be an Irish bar here someplace? And so there is. Thousands of miles from home, in a land surrounded by Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, cradled under the shadow of the Caucasus, we find the obligatory ‘Traditional Irish Pub’. How does it magnetically draw us to its bosom?
We know what we will find: silly green t-shirts with silly Irish proverbs emblazoned, a shillelagh on the wall, a blow up plastic pint of Guinness, a finger signpost indicating the distance and direction to Killarney, the signed Irish jersey, a Munster rugby top and an old admiral English soccer jersey left behind by a crazed forgotten international who stumbled in by accident. And only got out alive on the promise of a signed top!
My interpreter tells me the clientele here speak of little else but Mayo’s progress in the league. Thankfully, this visit took place before Round 6 of the NFL.
The Georgian Branch of the Mayo Supporter’s Club is eager for news from the front. Did McD show up? How is Mort the younger finding the break? Are we attacking too much? Can the defenders defend? Are we too fit for this time of the year? Are we training hard enough?
My head is microwaved but I am able to offer some comfort. I suggest it might be a long summer if we get a little luck along the way and somehow find the vital few inches. And with the mention of inches I am immediately whipped downtown to Rustaveli Avenue, the main street of Tbilisi.
Rustaveli is six lanes wide – three in each opposite directions – if you know what I mean. The cars are driven erratically and at speeds ranging from 100 to 150 kph. Now here’s the dilemma; this street does not do traffic lights, and I cannot locate any signs that restrict the speed. To cross from one side to the other requires the dash, timing and balance of a superior athlete.
Mikheil Shevardnadze, the Chairman of the Supporter’s Club, feels this is just the type of sharpening Mayo will need come early May. And they are willing to part fund the training camp once the County Board sort out the visas. It is a modern day type of SAQ if you will, he explains.
I tried it twice over the five days and lost my bottle after the second run. Any man that can do the regulation ten shuttles is championship material and this test of nerve will remove all the uncertainty associated with the red-hot heat of summer. No discovery learning when you run out for a Connacht final if you have this work behind you says Mikheil.

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See, the degree of difficulty is exacerbated by real life add-ons. 3,000 Tbilisi drivers have been arrested for driving while intoxicated during the first two months of 2006. Do the maths! And you thought Dublin was bad? Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs, Eka Tkeshelashvili, is considering the introduction of the breathalyser to replace walking the line and placing your finger onto your nose.
Now, here comes the showstopper. In the aftermath of Perestroika, the breakaways are not yet fully functional and the local police force have admitted that these figures represent 3-5% detection rates for this city!
SAQ? As I prepared to depart I noticed entry points on each street to what I guessed was a metro. On closer inspection, they revealed an underground crossing to the other side. They provide a method of safely crossing and avoiding the speeding drunken race above ground.
But here come Mayo...we might not get back with the full panel but what survives will beat the best in Ireland. Personally, it has been some experience. I’ve got Georgia on my mind....


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