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Getting fit for a purpose

By Declan Bogue

Published 16/12/2015

On the ball: Ireland’s International Rules squad work on their conditioning ahead of a Test with Australia
On the ball: Ireland’s International Rules squad work on their conditioning ahead of a Test with Australia

Word reaches us this week of one company whose team are commencing strength and conditioning training for the Ulster Inter-firms Gaelic football competition in the New Year.

It just goes to show that Gaelic football can never be treated as a mere exercise in socialising.

Over the last month, county teams have returned to their usual Tuesday-Thursday routine, with a couple of gym sessions in between. Add in one recovery, along with a pitch session at the weekend, and you won't be long racking up five collective meetings.

It's that kind of workload that has influential voices in the media such as Joe Brolly calling for change. In the last week we have learned of eight Kerry players who have recently had, or are awaiting, surgery on various injuries - Paul Geaney, Mikey Geaney and Shane Enright (back), Peter Crowley, James O'Donoghue and Colm Cooper (shoulder), Johnny Buckley (knee) and Anthony Maher (hip).

Add in David Moran, who was rested this year at times due to a back problem, and the evidence looks convincing.

Some feel the problem is down to over-training and that the solution is to cut back and allow the players more freedom. That's hard to argue against until you drill down and analyse patterns from previous generations.

Back in 1991, the journalist David Walsh interviewed a number of the great Kerry team from the '70s and '80s. What he found was a group of men - most of whom were not even into their forties - already crippled with injury.

In 1981, Pat Spillane tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He built up the muscles around it with work in his home-made gym. Today, his knee creaks like a rusty gate, a victim of chronic arthritis.

Both Mikey Sheehy's knees were arthritic in 1991. He couldn't make it around the golf course without severe discomfort. The classy corner forward (pictured) got a new one last year.

Tommy Doyle had tendonitis in his Achilles. John O'Keefe and Sean Walsh already had arthritis in their respective hips. Jimmy Deenihan's knee was mashed in 1982 and Ger Lynch's back was in ribbons.

The training regime, for a team that included numerous PE teachers, was gruelling and ignorant. Players would carry each other on piggy-back around Tralee. Wire to wire runs were a staple as were endless laps of the pitch.

That article appeared in 1991. Imagine how their bodies are today. But still, the lads could have a few pints after a league game! Some consolation to them now…

In 2003, Tyrone won the All-Ireland in Mickey Harte's first year. He placed a great emphasis on keeping fresh early in the season and so they only met up for a pitch session once a week for the first few months.

Players could do whatever gym work they wanted, but by themselves. Almost overnight and fired by anecdotes of Armagh players in particular shifting huge loads, there was a move towards bulking up.

In the last number of years, the more respected physical trainers in the game have emphasised the need for skills work and that the gym work should be devised with injury prevention in mind.

The Kerry team of the 'Golden Years' era had only to peak for three games per season; the Munster final (which wasn't the challenge it is now), the All-Ireland semi-final and the final. The league was almost a total irrelevance back then. They could take it, and they did at times, but they were more than happy to leave it in other seasons.

The current team has a greater workload, but it is doubtful whether their bodies might end up as broken as their predecessors.

Back to the Inter-firms story. There may be some players who are digging out a mouldy old pair of boots to play. Their bodies might not have felt a strain or a stretch in years. In these circumstances, a torn hamstring is an accident waiting to happen.

Given that this is an Inter-firms competition, absenteeism and loss of productivity becomes an inevitability.

That leaves the company who are inviting their players to undertake a strength and conditioning class as the group taking the most sensible course of action.

Belfast Telegraph

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