Belfast Telegraph

GAA does not need to muscle in on act - skill still key

By Declan Bogue

We have had 6am gym sessions that obviously worked for us," said Scotstown manager Mattie McGleenan after they won the Monaghan Championship last Sunday.

Pat Gilroy popularised the notion of a training session at the break of dawn while re-imagining the Dublin footballers, once sending Diarmuid Connolly home from a 2009 training camp in La Manga because he failed to rise in time.

Like every other novel practice employed by champions, it has been copied. Last season, an Armagh player tweeted a picture of their early-morning weights session.

Until now, the idea of collective weights sessions in club football was a rarity. But now that it is here, we can only say that it was inevitable.

Why the need for these sessions?

In layman's terms, you get stronger by pulling and pushing heavy objects. Players used to do that in their day-to-day occupations, but no more. Now that every child is expected to go to college, there is a dearth of tradesmen and manual workers in the country.

In evidence, I give you the occupations of Tyrone champions Trillick. They listed 42 of a panel in the county final programme. Some 18 of them are students. There were a variety of other roles ranging from web developer to solicitor and bank official, but there were just two electricians, two joiners, one builder and one plasterer. No farmers whatsoever.

Not only does it enable players to jump higher and tackle harder, but there is a also belated acceptance that strength and conditioning is the ultimate measure in injury-prevention for the modern game.

At a national level, the GAA is powerless to prevent any team from preparing in the fashion they see fit. The danger is that a team might decide to follow the lead of modern-day rugby teams that are all complicit in an arms race for size and bulk, with predictably horrendous results.

Over the last few weeks, Irish rugby fans have witnessed the carnage that this kind of training results in, with Jonathan Sexton and Peter O'Mahony wiped out.

And yet, the RFU have denied that this World Cup has produced any more injuries than in previous competitions. When they published their injury audit for 2013-14, concussion was the most common injury in the game. It had actually increased by 59 per cent from the previous year's report. Some years ago, the great Jack Kyle made the point at a dinner that during his playing career, rugby was a contact sport, but now, it is an impact sport.

Impossible to disagree when you witness how players have transmogrified into heat-seeking missiles, firing themselves into rucks with the intention of wreaking pain, injury and withdrawal.

As popular as rugby has become, those findings become the elephant in the room when it comes to increasing participation levels. Although it enjoys the largest viewing figures, converting that into parents willing to allow their children to take up the game is another matter.

During the winter months you can pop along to any leisure centre gym and you will not be long spotting the groups of young lads at the squat racks and bench presses, going through a routine they watched on YouTube.

The idea that as a youngster you need to bulk up during the winter, before toning up for the following summer is one of common currency in the world of Gaelic football and hurling.

The GAA has never been short on expertise in any field. It may be of utmost importance that they should develop a network of strength and conditioning coaches that can tutor and mentor figures at every club how to approach this area of preparation. Because Gaelic football requires a lithe breed of footballer. Not wrecking balls.

Belfast Telegraph


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