IT’S fair to say GAA coaches are finding themselves in times like no other.
Most inter-county teams train collectively four or five times a week, where management have complete access and control over a session. Often for players, it’s a case of showing up and working hard.
But we find ourselves in unprecedented times at the minute, with the blanket ban on collective training, and it certainly wasn’t something Michelle Dullea, the Cork senior ladies football strength and conditioning coach envisaged when she accepted the role of head of S&C with the squad last November.
But for Dullea and the squad, it’s just another obstacle they must overcome on the road to success.
“Although our training plans are altered, you think outside the box and work on what you can do instead of focusing on what you can’t do,” Says Dullea.
“The pandemic has really interrupted training plans for most sports teams in the country. The closure of pitches and gyms has led to a complete remodelling of the team’s program.
“The players are also now training individually rather than as a collective which can be difficult to get used to.”
Recently graduated from the University of Limerick with a degree in Sports Science, this is Dullea’s third season as a part of Ephie Fitzgerald’s backroom team.
Initially assisting Kevin Tattan with the S&C side of things, the Ahiohill native took over the role completely for the 2020 season and has been key to Cork’s bright start to the season.
When the season was put on hold, Cork were sitting second on the Division 1 league table with four wins out of five.
Their last outing against Donegal resulted in their first defeat of the season, a disappointing outing, but qualification for the league final still looked extremely likely if they won either one of their last two fixtures.
The playing field has shifted now, with new goals and demands required of the players, and Dullea is continuing to keep the squad on track with their fitness goals, checking in almost daily with players, answering any questions they may have and is adapting their training to individual needs.
“We’re taking the opportunity to work on our aerobic fitness so that when we get back to training we can prioritise ball work as we will have that fitness there.
“We are doing two running sessions in the garden which involves more speed work and then one longer run on the road. We’re also keeping our strength levels topped up with two sessions a week focusing on bodyweight movements with higher repetitions.”
With the National League’s scrapped for 2020, Cork’s next competitive fixture is pencilled in for May 30th against Tipperary in the Munster championship, but that is looking unlikely to go ahead.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the season, Dullea insists motivation for the squad to keep working has never wavered.
“I find that this group of players are very driven and intrinsically motivate themselves. I think everyone is experiencing good days and bad days throughout this whole period, which is completely normal as people’s lives and routines has been turned upside down.
There are a lot of extra stresses in the player’s lives at the moment and a lot of uncertainty regarding college exams, work and the leaving cert but as a group the team have a very strong work ethic and are getting the programs done.”
Dullea believes the absence of collective training presents opportunities for GAA players. Players will have more time to recover, while those carrying any knocks or injuries have the opportunity to recover completely. Gyms are closed, but players can utilise bodyweight exercises to keep on top of their fitness.
“The situation gives players an opportunity to identify and work on areas that need to be improved.
“This will be individual and can incorporate skills such as kicking with your non-dominant leg, or players can focus on getting stronger, fitter, or improving your mobility.
“Players should write down two to three goals that they want to achieve in in a month’s time which will give an external focus to work towards.”