Belfast Telegraph

Firm's performance analysis software could let Northern Ireland Euro 2016 fans get right to the heart of the action

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland fans gearing up for the Euros may be able to get closer to the action in future thanks to the work of a Newry company.

As many as 10 teams in the European Championships will be using performance-monitoring devices made by STATSports - including Northern Ireland, the Republic, England, Wales and Poland.

As well as big national teams, the firm's 200 clients around the world also include rugby players and soccer clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus and LA Galaxy.

STATSports chief operating officer Sean O'Connor said data on indicators such as heart rates, distance travelled and metabolic ratios could be made available to fans as they watch games.

The Viper System device can record movements at a rate of around 10 times per second, Mr O'Connor said, adding: "Usually a player will be finely balanced and apply equal force on each side, but if you're carrying an injury or if you're fatigued, that can change how you run. You may put more stress on one side, for example, to compensate.

"The data can be used to detect whether a player is injured.

"Big data is a very common term and phrase, but I think the onus has to be on us to provide smart data and not just big data."

The chief operating officer also indicated that the STATSports platform should be developed not to make "more and more numbers, but to make use of data to produce useful information".

"When you know a player profile, you know what to expect from them," he said.

"We'll know the 'fingerprint' of each player, so that we then know when they go outside of their norm."

A major part of the company's future roadmap is the development of their products for consumer use.

STATSports employs 35 people, including sports scientists, and outsources hardware development to specialist companies.

Both Mr O'Connor and company boss Alan Clarke are from Dundalk. Mr O'Connor also taught sports science at Newry Tech - now Southern Regional College. As well as Northern Ireland, the firm also has offices in London, Chicago and Florida.

Mr O'Connor said International Football Association Board rule changes were permitting the use of more technology in games.

"We hope to be able to capture data live and use it to enhance the viewer experience," he added.

"The Ulster Rugby team, for example, will take the data to empower fans to give them a feel for players' capabilities, so that you can compare yourself to your heroes and athletes."

A similar experience could lie in store for Northern Ireland fans in future, Mr O'Connor suggested. "The application of big data in sport is relatively new," he added. "The football anoraks have been building their knowledge, but we're taking it to another level."

Sean O'Connor will speak at the BigData tech event in Titanic Belfast tomorrow

Belfast Telegraph