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GAA: Jim McGuinness is a running man

Fitness regime led to Sam glory

By Declan Bogue

Try to imagine the following scenario. You are a club player. A new manager is due to come into your club. An outside man.

You don't know him, but he may have a good reputation, which gives you hope. Even if he carries a bad reputation, you are prepared to push that to the back of your mind and give him the benefit of the doubt.

This is the season to believe that next year could be your year after all.

The new man comes into your dressing room. The very first thing he says is that today, you will be running laps of the field. Lots of them.

Chances are, the energy in the room would escape like air from a balloon suffering a slow puncture.

A laps man. Nothing says 'Old School' quite as much as a man who likes to get a few miles into the legs at the outset of a season.

Running. Are you a fan? Funny thing, but around a decade ago, running became a dirty word in the GAA. Coaches began to be rated on the amount and array of cones they could decorate a pitch with. Fitness was built up through a series of tackling grids and handpassing quadrants.

It seemed that the more complicated these drills were, the greater benefit was to be gained from them.

Even to this day, players will rave about the stimulation they get from the type of coach who never repeats a drill.

They miss the whole point of coaching though. Progression is achieved by practice and the cornerstone of practice is repetition. As Stephen Cluxton said to Jim Gavin while accepting Sam Maguire in 2013, "Repetition, repetition, repetition."

Back to running. I am an unashamed backer of running as a means of preparing for a season. After all, Gaelic football is now a possession game based on running. And the benefits of a good running stride are manifold. Don't take my word for it, take the word of a three-time Olympian.

In the athletics writer Ian O'Riordan's book, 'Miles to Run, Promises to Keep', Eamonn Coghlan shares his thoughts: "The other thing I see are kids starting out in say football or rugby, and the first thing they do are sprints. Instead of learning the basics of running over a period of time, and slow running, which trains the heart and builds endurance, so that it can absorb the speed work and the faster training."

A few years back, men were getting called out on this. The former Laois player Colm Parkinson practically built a media career on the back of labelling onetime manager Mick O'Dwyer "an absolute bluffer."

Micko was a fan of running. Matter of fact, he used to insist his teams do something in the region of 60 laps in early training sessions. It served two purposes; as well as providing an excellent method of fat burning, which is essential at the beginning of any season, it allowed him the perfect illustration of character among the players. He would instantly see the division between those who were mentally strong, and the weak.

Laois won their first Leinster title in 57 years under O'Dwyer. They haven't won one since. Perhaps he wasn't quite the bluffer after all.

The same goes for many other coaches. When Jim McGuinness was making his way out of Crossmaglen's ground in 2010, having watched Donegal's miserable defeat in the backdoor to Armagh, he was asked by another reporter what he would work on if he became manager.

He replied that he would begin with their fitness. Soon, they were completing murderous runs in Glenfin. Kevin Cassidy was advised to run up to 13 kilometres on his nights off. He ended that season as an All-Star.

Donegal won the Sam Maguire in 2012, beating Mayo in the final.

When Crossmaglen put two All-Ireland club titles back-to-back in 2011-12, they spent their pre-seasons running forest tracks, with the time honoured command of "two at the back, run to the front" command ringing out. Veterans Oisín McConville and Paul Hearty were not excused from the activity.

I spoke to three current strength and conditioning coaches on this very subject.

They all agreed that early-season running is not only desirable, but an essential part of building lung capacity and shifting a bit of residual weight before players go into a season.

Sometimes, we are too quick to discard experience.

Belfast Telegraph


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