Simply being outside on the hottest day of the year was too much for some, so going through a vigorous pre-season fitness campaign won’t have filled many Dons’ hearts with excitement.
Damien Doyle had a wry grin on his face when I asked what he had in store for the players when they returned on Tuesday, but despite standing in a glorified greenhouse and being made to sprint back and forth until they couldn’t muster another shuttle, the mood was like the first day of a holiday among the players.
Few will have forgotten the events of May 3, and the ramifications in the subsequent two months. But this was one of the first times the entire squad has been back together, doing exactly what they both love and do for a living.
There were new faces in the mix - Simon Church, Cody Cropper and Dale Jenning all rubbed shoulders with their new team-mates, quickly realising their new fitness coach wasn’t going to let them off because of the heat.
For this is the most important pre-season campaign MK Dons will ever have. Whether, in future years, Dons go up or down and leave the Championship only to return again, none will ever be called ‘the first’ again. And this being the first Championship pre-season the club has ever had, being under prepared is something Doyle, Robinson, Barker and Andrews simply cannot afford to be.
The media spotlight will be on Dons brighter than perhaps the others who join them from League 1 this season. Bristol City were in the Championship as recently as two years ago, while Preston North End were second tier stalwarts having spent a decade there before being relegated in 2011.
But with Dons being there for the first time since ‘the move’ all those years ago, expect all that turbulence to be dredged up again when national reporters remember there’s life outside the top tier. But going about things in the right way, without upsetting any apple carts and causing too much of a ripple, Dons may be able to avoid some of the inevitable flack heading their way.
In the last 12 months, Karl Robinson has become far more reserved when shoved in front of the media. Gone are such sweeping statements as ‘best right back in the league’, ‘best squad in the league’ and ‘we’d be up there if I kept my best players fit’ which I remind him of every now and then. His alternative last season was to roll down the shutters and keep schtum when we tried to get him to give us a back page headline.
When I asked how Dons would do in the Championship, he told me he’d tell me in six weeks time when the season kicks off, so maybe the Robbo quote shop is opening for business again this season - though I doubt it.
Having brought the club to the Championship party, Robinson now has his own level of expectation to contend with. Having been one of the hot prospects for the future for his entire Dons career to date, he now has his accomplishment and can start to prove he’s not just hype.
It’ll need a lot of work though. He knows he still needs at least five more players despite netting three already, players who played a bit part last season will need to up their game, and there’ll be no room for dodgy patches in February again.
For under that bright Championship spot light, there will be nowhere to hide and the critics will be far less forgiving. It’s do or die time.
A run in the sun doesn’t seem too bad now.