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Ulster counties have to up their game: McGurn

By John Campbell

As Dublin bask in the euphoria of Sunday’s stunning All-Ireland final triumph over Kerry, one of Ulster’s top coaching authorities has warned that teams from the province will now encounter much greater difficulty in trying to capture ‘Sam.’



And Mike McGurn, who has served as strength and conditioning coach to the Ireland rugby team and is currently acting in a similar capacity with Armagh and the International Rules team, believes that ambitious counties can take lessons from Declan Kidney’s side’s excellent World Cup victory over Australia on Saturday.

“They went into Saturday’s game against Australia as virtual no-hopers after those bitterly disappointing results last month yet look what character, belief and a magnificent team ethic brought them,” said McGurn.

“Unless players, irrespective of whatever code they’re in, are prepared to make massive sacrifices then they have little chance of sampling success in the modern era.”

McGurn believes that sides from the province are capable of producing a much higher level of performance, but the highly-respected Fermanagh native is convinced that the levels of planning, preparation and commitment which are now required for success will place much higher demands on players.

“We saw on Sunday how two supremely fit sides were, on their own admission, out on their feet at the end of the game. That for me says it all. The physical effort needed is now almost superhuman and both Kerry and Dublin have raised the bar,” said McGurn.

McGurn is fearful that Dublin, still essentially a young side, could remain a major force while Kerry will be desperately anxious to recapture ‘Sam’ next year with Meath, Kildare and Mayo among other sides who will believe they can build on the progress they have made this term.

“While Armagh and Tyrone have won All-Ireland finals since the dawn of the new millennium and Down were unlucky to lose to Cork in last year’s decider, it’s going to be harder for the Ulster counties to make their pitch for ‘Sam’,” said McGurn.

He has conducted an in-depth analysis of matches over the course of the past two years, which he feels adequately backs up his overall assessment at to just where gaelic football stands right now in relation to conditioning.

“Last year when Armagh beat Down in the Division Two league final, they would have been well below the level of strength and conditioning I would have wanted,” recalls McGurn.

“Yet when they played Dublin later on in the championship they had improved by some 30 per cent in this context — and they still lost the match. Why? Because Dublin were able to marry their other skills better to their fitness and overall strength levels.”

Dublin’s pre-dawn training sessions in the snow last January and the heightened intensity of Kerry’s preparations dominated the pre-All-Ireland final debate.

And McGurn is in no doubt that managers and coaches throughout the country will be summoning a much greater effort from their players in 2012.

“It was hurt that drove Dublin to glory on Sunday,” said McGurn.

“They had suffered their fill of heartbreak and went through the pain barrier to win at last.

“That’s the kind of monumental effort it takes and it is something for which Ulster sides must steel themselves if they are to be in the All-Ireland frame next year.”

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