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McGahan: Ulster sides must reach new heights

By John Campbell

Don't mention the words close season to Jason McGahan - the Armagh man will simply not know what you are talking about.

Currently settling into his new role as Kerry's High Performance Director, McGahan already finds himself empowered with a central role in rekindling All-Ireland glory for the Kingdom.

Just recently he finished his finished his PhD in Sport Science, researching the training loads and wellness markers of elite Gaelic footballers, with his detailed thesis appearing in several international strength and conditioning journals.

And the former O'Connells, Tullysaran club player is now particularly keen to see Ulster counties place an even greater emphasis on performance consistency as teams focus once again on striving to break Dublin's stranglehold on the Sam Maguire Cup.

"Obviously Dublin have been ahead of the pack in terms of preparation and performance, but that's not to say that other counties, particularly those in Ulster, should bow the knee to them," asserts McGahan. "I think people like Peter Donnelly in Tyrone and Julie Davis in Armagh are doing great work in their own quiet way in terms of striving to achieve a consistently higher level of performance from their teams.

"I believe that counties have come to realise now that standards in terms of preparation and performance have risen considerably and that they have to try and reach these standards if they hope to attain any level of success."

McGahan is convinced that Dublin's dominance of the All-Ireland championship landscape stems from the fact that they have maintained the high performance levels they have set for themselves.

"Consistency has keen key to their success," points out McGahan, who worked with Kildare prior to taking up his present role.

"Dublin have been maintaining their standards for a number of years now and, in doing so, they have raised the bar for every other county.

"Since I started my job with Kerry, it has been brought home to me that they are keen to take the same route. There is a serious amount of young talent in Kerry at the moment and there is a marked hunger here to see this come to fruition at the highest level."

Having formerly played for Armagh at minor and Under-21 level, McGahan feels he has particular insight into the psyche of younger players.

But he is convinced that there is a need for better "joined up thinking" in terms of attempting to bring out the best in such players.

"There are no real structures in place whereby players can be brought on further after they have finished with their involvement with Academies in the various counties," states McGahan. "I don't think they are being monitored closely enough and, given that the demands on inter-county players are so intensive, I think this is a great pity. Maybe there is a need for more joined up thinking.

"It has become abundantly clear to me that with the game changing so much - the five new playing rules is just the latest development in this connection - players require better tuition in terms of elements such as shot selection, decision-making and game management."

And he has thrown out a challenge to those Ulster sides in particular who believe they have the capability to last the distance in the All-Ireland championship.

"It has become abundantly clear of late that the teams which reach the closing stages of the All-Ireland series do so because they are able to maintain their levels of intensity, their pace and their overall work-rate even when the pressure is on," insists McGahan.

"There is no big secret. Teams like Tyrone and Monaghan have shown they can live with the best of them. What is essential for success is that players are able to perform to a high level under pressure. That is the bottom line.

"The players' mind-set and game management skills are invariably tested when the heat is on and the stakes are high.

"Obviously I would love to see my native Armagh continue to progress, but my sole focus is to play my part in striving to get Kerry back to the top again."

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