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opinion, Strength and Conditioning, training methods

GAA Strength and Conditioning Article

I came across this article by Colm O’Rourke on the Irish Independent website. Have a read first and then come back to me:


For those of you who can’t read the article, the basic take-home messages are:
1. The game is different to the way it was when O’Rourke played
2. Some of that is due to Strength and Conditioning
3. O’Rourke agrees that S&C plays a vital role in a sedentary society
4. He believes a lot of it is poor or improper for a Gaelic Footballer, and questions why, since this is a science, do training programmes differ so radically
5. He calls for a professional standard from the GAA

So let me start by saying that there isn’t a coach in Ireland who didn’t read that and nod along to themselves. “Yes”, they’re saying, “What Colm wrote is right. Fortunately, I’m one of the good ones. Sure didn’t I train such-a-club’s Juniors last year and they’re all lifting massive numbers now?”

Of course, I read it the same way. I think I’m one of the good ones. I’m pleased and happy with the results I get in the same way that Coach X or Y is. But I’m afraid we can’t all be right.

I agree, mostly, with what O’Rourke is saying, however I don’t think the issue is as black and white as he says. I’m going to explain why below.

Firstly, I think we need some history. Strength and Conditioning in Gaelic Football was  based around endurance until a few short years ago. There were exceptions of course, but in the main, every footballer knew that if he or she went pre-season training, that there would be laps, and lots of them. A change has taken place in the past decade, and I think that the culture and mindset has undergone a change towards a certain type of conditioning. Whether or not this is the right direction is up for debate, but here’s my opinion for what it’s worth.

Firstly, Ireland’s first professional sport had it’s influence. Rugby was in the vanguard of S&C practice in Ireland. Professionalism brought with it professional coaches, and as the speed and power of the pro game increased, so too did the admiration of those looking on from the outside. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that a few of those admirers were GAA coaches.

Secondly, and I may be wrong in saying this, I believe that the International Rules series played a roll in the public perception of Gaelic Footballers. The GAA midfielder, when I was growing up at least, was the epitome of tough. When the professional Australian Rules players arrived in Dublin and handed out a physical beating with their bulk, I think it had an impact on how we viewed players.

Finally in the early years of the century, Northern teams, in particular Armagh and Tyrone, played a game that was based on pace, power, and physicality. Now you can love or hate this brand of football, but you can’t deny that it made the other big teams adapt. In particular, they had to match that physicality.

So where did this lead us? Firstly you’d have to say that a change was inevitable. All games undergo changes, nothing stays the same. This applies to skills as well as physical training. However in Ireland it seems that since our only real history of weight training was in bodybuilding and power lifting, that these two methods and those who were pushing them rushed in to fill the vacuum. As long as a player was getting bigger and stronger, that was good. It could be argued that not too much attention was being paid to the other physical qualities that were needed. Players needed to be more like AFL or Rugby players. That was that. QED. In 8 years of training GAA players, I have never once been asked what methods I use for improving mobility or agility, but every single manager has asked about size and strength.

Let’s play pretend for a moment and suppose that instead of Rugby and Australian Rules, our first glimpse of the power of Strength and Conditioning training had been through professional soccer, or basketball, and it was these sports that had greater influence. Would we have decided that football was not just a game of pace and power, but that players needed to have faster feet, more agility, greater jump heights, and that size was just a bonus? If we’d played a compromise rules series against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side, would we have decided everyone needed to be faster and have greater agility?

All of this is academic, and I must stress that I’m not a Gaelic games coach. I’m just viewing it from my perspective as a Strength and Conditioning coach who works with Gaelic games players.

Lastly, a little question to any players out there who think that they’re too small, or too weak. I ask this one of every squad I coach;

Two players have 2 hours extra time a week to train for 4 weeks. Player A goes to the gym to get bigger and stronger for these hours. Player B takes a football to the park and practices taking frees from all around the large square. Who is more valuable to the team the next season?

Answers on a postcard or in the comments!



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