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How Northern Ireland firm is playing key role in Premier League's restart hopes


Happy scenes: Manchester City's Phil Foden with the Premier League trophy

Happy scenes: Manchester City's Phil Foden with the Premier League trophy

Getty Images

Happy scenes: Manchester City's Phil Foden with the Premier League trophy

A Northern Ireland company is playing a key role in helping the Premier League get up and running again.

Newry firm StatSports, which is valued at more than £200m, has carried out an important study which could prove crucial for 'Project Restart'.

The findings reveal that the average close-contact period between Premier League players in training lasts just over three seconds, which is far lower than the threshold to contract coronavirus.

The company, which turns 13 this year, was founded by Louth natives Sean O'Connor and Alan Clarke.

StatSports, whose company base was visited by former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino earlier this year, have carved out a lucrative niche as the technology supplier to organisations at the very elite level of world sport and they provide GPS vests and monitoring software to 15 Premier League clubs and a number of teams around the world.

And now the English top-flight clubs plan to present the research to their squads, as they seek to reassure them of the safety of getting back to contact training.

The study - titled Player Proximity white paper - looked at data from 11 training sessions at four clubs. It was possible to measure a two-metre circle around players and precisely track how often it was encroached by team-mates.

The main findings were that the average incursion lasts 3.3 seconds, from an average of 350 per session. Since that can be amplified by situations like set-piece drills, the majority of incursions last under one second. This is all considered lower than the threshold to contract coronavirus, particularly outside.

The white paper could be especially important since it is players’ concerns over phase two of ‘Project Restart’ — a return to contact training — that is currently seen as the biggest obstacle to returning.

The Premier League captains expressed most reservation about this at Wednesday’s video conference, as well as the lack of detail and information.

Some managers see convincing them as the main challenge.

Players are particularly concerned about extended contact in training given the government’s two-metre social distancing guidelines, and the prior lack of scientific research on football.

It is hoped this white paper could change that, and prove persuasive. Clubs aim to present it to players over the next week, as they explain plans for the second phase.

The idea is to complement it with other scientific research, like studies that show outdoor sport is one of the safest working environments.

Clubs were surprised by how low the figures in the white paper were, with that all the more relevant since they come from sessions before the coronavirus crisis, and may have involved incursions during water breaks and rest periods.

The average time and amount of incursions would be even lower if using what are now being called “Covid-friendly drills” for phase two.

The idea would be to further reassure players, and show them in black and white what training would entail, and what the scientific research is.

The 11 training sessions used for the research involved 75 players, who wore the STATSports Apex GNNS device as part of standard daily practice. Data was taken from total time on grass.

It was found that warm-ups and possession-based drills produced the highest frequency of incursions, while large-sided — including 11-a-side — and medium-sized games and small group technical drills produced fewer than two incursions per minute.

Set-pieces and one-on-ones naturally involve higher durations of incursions, but the data can also allow coaches to adapt around this.

Clubs are confident the white paper can greatly allay the concerns of their captains.

Meanwhile, League Two clubs have unanimously indicated they are in favour of moving towards ending the 2019-20 season.

The English Football League confirmed that the view had been formed after considering the return-to-play protocols and attached costs of resuming the campaign amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The EFL said the fourth-tier clubs had also agreed to the framework drawn up by their board for use in the event of curtailment — the maintenance of promotion and the play-offs, and deciding the final league table on an unweighted points-per-game system.

However, they asked that no club be relegated to the National League.

Belfast Telegraph