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John McCloskey impressed by Ireland's fitness levels after Australia win in International Rules Test

By John McCloskey

His name was not on the official match programme and was kept out of all the build-up, but it was no surprise that John McCloskey was by Joe Kernan's side during Ireland's Test win over Australia on Saturday night.

The Belfast teacher and former Antrim footballer has fulfilled a number of different coaching roles alongside Kernan, their relationship going back over 20 years to his first involvement with Crossmaglen Rangers.

Despite the role being left to current Saracens expert Phil Morrow during their time with Armagh - with McCloskey's role more refined as a skills coach - one of the pioneering forces of strength and conditioning in Gaelic football had a ringside seat to see how Ireland's amateurs matched up against professional opponents last weekend.

Another Ulsterman in Ciaran Sloan - who works with Ulster Rugby - was responsible for the strength and conditioning of this Irish side, drawing admiration from McCloskey.

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"The body shape of these Gaelic footballers has changed dramatically over the last 10 years," explained McCloskey.

"Certainly over the last five or six years, there has been a remarkable buy-in from every county team and every county player now, which you really need.

"In order to compete at the level they are competing at now, you really need to do it."

As someone who spent several seasons with Armagh during this conditioning revolution, he was able to observe that: "Even some of the more skilful guys like Steven McDonnell and Oisín McConville, they realised the importance of it as they were coming towards the end of their careers.

"I think other players might have felt that they should have done that earlier and maybe they would have lasted a bit longer and avoided some of the injuries they picked up later in their career."

However, McCloskey did note that the two teams were starting off from entirely different stages of their respective seasons, reminding us that the Australian players had effectively broken off their holidays to play Ireland.

"They have just come off a six-week off-season, where essentially they were still on holidays, whereas our guys were coming to the end of their season," he added.

"In some ways it balances up, and our lads would be getting fatigued now, those guys wouldn't be fully fit. It kind of breaks even.

"Then you go into the facts of the game itself; Australia dominated possession. We were just more clinical with our score-taking.

"You could argue about things one way or another, but the fact is, our lads are in far better shape to be able to compete, including the physical stakes."

And he explained the extent of the training regime the players underwent for the series. He stated: "We spent every Saturday morning in recovery sessions. We would have a hard training session on a Friday night, which basically was a match, a training match.

"Saturday morning was no longer than an hour and it was just pure skills work. We used the GPS to make sure we weren't over-working that as well."

Belfast Telegraph


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