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GAA players fitter than soccer stars: Sean Cavanagh

By Declan Bogue

Published 15/04/2016

Old foes: Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan at the launch of the National League finals at Croke Park
Old foes: Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan at the launch of the National League finals at Croke Park

Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh has offered a sharp illustration of how the physical preparations of Gaelic footballers are outstripping professional athletes, and refutes the claims of Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney when he said that: "It's better not to kid ourselves that we are at the elite end of sport."

Speaking at the launch of the National League finals in Croke Park, Cavanagh recounted how his brother Colm's friendship with former Tyrone underage player and current Northern Ireland and Aberdeen forward Niall McGinn has led to some interesting comparisons over their training loads.

"He would be home from time to time and call in, and we'd be chatting and comparing training schedules," the Moy man said.

"We'd always be looking to see what brilliant training regime they would be on, and their strength and conditioning stuff seems to be way behind what we are currently doing.

"He's getting to the stage where he's looking at our stuff and going 'what are you doing here, what's the secret, how are you doing this?'"

Asked directly about McGeeney's contention that GAA players cannot be considered as elite athletes, Cavanagh said: "If Gaelic footballers aren't elite athletes I'm not sure…it frightens me to think what elite athletes are. Just as a team, you are on the field training three or four nights a week and then you are in the gym two or three times a week.

"I'm not sure how much more a person can output more energy out of their body. Obviously there is the recovery thing during the day and all that, and okay there might be a wee bit more than that, but I know most GAA players are doing stretching and foam rolling and going to pools to recover."

He added: "The GAA players are doing them at 7, 8, 9 o'clock at night whereas the full-time athletes are doing them at 10, 11 or 12 o'clock during the day."

The 2008 Player of the Year also made an admission that 2016 is probably his swansong in a career that produced three All-Ireland titles to date, with Tyrone having their sights set on another one.

"I'd say there's a fair chance, there's no point in me saying any different," the chartered accountant said.

"I'm 33 now and like anything in life the injuries start niggling at you a wee bit. I'm lucky enough at the moment that I'm in pretty good shape. But it just gets tougher; it gets tougher every year for the time commitment and the injuries and everything to do with it.

"I always had made the promise to myself and to my wife that I wouldn't want to see myself limping to the end either. It's not fair to do that on the team either that it would be come to the stage where you are living on a reputation or something like that."

While making some interesting observations about the evolution of football, where players now almost need to have a certain athletic ability ahead of their footballing capacities, Cavanagh believes he was gifted with his physical attributes to survive as long as he has.

"As years go on it just gets tougher to maintain that level of training," he said.

"I was saying to someone earlier on, I was comparing some of the GPS stats back in 2013 to where they are now, and in some instances there's like a 10% speed difference, even from three years ago. It's up 10% in terms of top speeds we are hitting; it's amazing to look at. To be honest the running part of it... I would have always have considered myself a decent enough athlete anyway.

"It didn't really annoy me that much, it just meant that 10 years ago you were at the front of those running lines and now you are the back.

"You have to put out so much more energy on any given training night or whatever than what you previously used to do," he added.

"You used to come off the training field thinking 'oh there's still a bit left in the tank, I'll do a bit of kicking'.

"Now you are coming off the training field barely fit to put one foot in front of the other. That's just the way it is."

Belfast Telegraph

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