Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Declan Bogue: Genuine county men won’t need to go cold turkey

Donegal’s Mark McHugh epitomises the ultra-fit modern player
Donegal’s Mark McHugh epitomises the ultra-fit modern player

In the twilight world of post-Christmas blues, the most over-used phrase has to be ‘thank God it's all over.'

We can blame Supernanny for popularising the concept that young children thrive on routine. They are nourished with a hot, steaming bowl of rules, washed down with a glass of boundaries.

That thinking should not be confined to children. All over the country, inter-county footballers and hurlers were waking up yesterday to the January detox. Some of them might have let themselves go a bit over Christmas, but their idea of letting themselves go could be vastly different to Joe Public.

No creature craves a well-structured and predictable environment quite like the county man.

While the rest of us look over our shoulders at the past fortnight and ruefully vow that there will be changes, the county man has been training hard, playing challenge matches and spending down time in the gym.

Some lads enter the gym and have their routine worked out already in their head. Once they are in, they will not break breath to others until they have completed their programme.

They will pump iron to an extent, but while this can yield fast results in shaping the body, the science behind strength and conditioning takes into account and uses the athlete's body weight more than you might expect. Therefore, they will do a lot of plyometric box jumps, pull-ups and press-ups.

Any player worth his salt will also incorporate a series of exercises to strengthen the core that might take up to 30 minutes to complete.

While it might appear that they are executing a series of yoga poses, or merely posing, core stability serves two purposes; in order to become stronger, you must start from the middle of your body, and work your way out.

Once you have a base of core stability, it will allow you to work hard on other areas of your body, having significantly reduced the dangers of injury to your groins, hamstrings and hips.

Those overblown guys that you see throwing the weights around in the gym before drinking in their image in the mirror? Most of them are ticking time bombs who are doing long-term damage.

While the dedication to and learning about the gym may seem like a lot to digest, it's only a tiny part of what goes into being a county man.

On the training field, one of the most popular drills for coaches over the past few years has been the 200 metre run. In the last year, a number of coaches have taken this to another level, driving their charges through a series of 400 metre runs.

The capacity to feed your lungs with enough oxygen while maintaining maximum effort has become an obsession in the GAA of 2013.

Some players are biologically gifted in this regard. Mark McHugh for example, is Donegal's running man and would dominate if he chose to compete in local athletics.

His ability as a player is intrinsically linked to his work rate, and he has been moulded by what Donegal do on the training field. During training, no soft excuses about tight hamstrings are accepted when it comes to running drills.

Other counties have been similarly ahead of the pack in exploiting the capabilities of athletes in other realms.

In 2011, David Matthews was appointed fitness coach of the Cork hurlers.

His background was in middle-distance running, competing in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and favoured the 800 and 1,000 metre events.

In interviews he gave after his appointment, he explained how the blend of speed and endurance required for 800 metre runs were perfectly related to the demands of hurling.

No less a coach than Jimmy Barry-Murphy believes in him, and no less athletes than Donal Óg Cusack and Seán Óg hAilpín would corner him before and after Cork training sessions, pumping him for information or any sliver of knowledge that they could take away for themselves.

One of the more common mistakes fans make at this time of year is to write off games in the McKenna Cup, claiming that neither team are fit in January.

That's nonsense. Players now look at their conditioning as a perpetual project.

These men are seriously fit and have put in the effort to even make it onto a county squad in January.

As you get ready for your first game of 2013 this weekend, don't mistake heavy pitches for heavy legs.

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