The Paudie Kissane column: Player recovery top of the agenda as GAA teams need to strike a balance

The Paudie Kissane column: Player recovery top of the agenda as GAA teams need to strike a balance
Former Munster strength and conditioning coach Aidan O'Connell is now involved with Cork GAA on a full-time basis. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

I SPENT last Saturday in Croke Park at the Gaelic Players’ Association’s balance conference.

This was their first conference on player welfare.

Over the course of any season, there are many conferences and seminars I would love to attend but don’t have the time.

There were doctors, physiotherapists, managers, and strength-and-conditioning coaches in attendance, all open to learning something new and moving forward.

Speakers, from both home and abroad, covered a range of topics, from injury surveillance to sleep, athlete development, load management, and the planning of training.

Cork's Graham Canty with Bryan Cullen of Dublin, back in 2012. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer
Cork's Graham Canty with Bryan Cullen of Dublin, back in 2012. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

Those speakers included Joe O’Connor, fitness coach with the Limerick hurlers, former Dublin footballer Bryan Cullen, who is high-performance manager with Dublin GAA, and Jason McGahan, who is head of athletic development with Kerry GAA.

Cork’s new high-performance manager, Aidan O’Connell, was also involved in a Q&A session, alongside ex-Donegal footballer Luke Kearney.

There were also representatives from the English FA and the American NFL, who added an international perspective.

Inter-county players can spend up to 31 hours a week on training and games. It is a privilege to represent your county, but the demands on many players are increasing.

Chairman of the GPA Player Safety and Welfare committee and ex-Limerick footballer, Jim O’Donovan, highlighted the demands on inter-county players.

They will be playing on more than one team and travelling extensively to and from training.

For example, over 50% of players have a round trip of 2.5 hours when completing a gym session and over three hours when completing a pitch session.

Many sessions take place at night, which means players are arriving home late from training. This limits the quality and duration of sleep.

I have highlighted, previously, the benefits of sleep to an athlete’s well-being and recovery.

Half of inter-county players get less than the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep per night.

While 70% of inter-county players report that they still enjoy training and the competition for places, the extra travel demands would not only negatively impact recovery, but would also compromise other important aspects of their lives.

Ex-Donegal footballer Luke Kearney told a harrowing story of two hip operations and the effect it had on him and his family. Too much training and travel took its toll.

Training should be planned and monitored appropriately, and in an environment where a player will report if he or she is experiencing any unusual soreness or injury.

This can be difficult when a player is looking to impress a manager and every player wants to play.

Education, starting at young age, has a key role here, as does communication.

Collecting data on a player’s wellness and recovery is only a starting point. Communication is the key element.

A common theme of many of the presentations was the need to implement a process.

There’s no point spending loads of money on the latest technology, collecting data if it isn’t actually helping you make better decisions about the preparation and recovery of your players.

More is certainly not necessarily better; instead, it is about keeping it simple.

Limerick strength and conditioning coach Joe O'Connor and manager John Kiely celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Limerick strength and conditioning coach Joe O'Connor and manager John Kiely celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

In the future, county players may complete the majority of their gym programmes on a regional basis to reduce time wasted travelling.

This will be relevant to all players, from development up to senior level. Money spent on travel expenses could be spent on additional strength-and-conditioning coaches.

The gym programme must be done correctly to get the transfer from the gym to the field and also reduce the risk of injury.

This was excellently displayed by Sports Surgery Clinic’s head of rehab, Enda King.

It is up to each county, with their own unique logistics, to devise a plan that can ensure players are getting the maximum return from their S&C programme, while also reducing the extra demands on them.

From the NFL, senior director of player affairs, Don Davis, explained how teams are punished if they overtrain their players. Teams are penalised financially, but also in the next draft pick.

Considering the high contact levels, there is a high risk of injury in the NFL anyway.

Nevertheless, Don Davis strives to ensure the players get the best care possible. It is non-negotiable and everyone is responsible.

English football’s lead physiotherapist, Steve Kemp, highlighted how all the professional football academies’ structures and programmes are graded, which determines funding.

This, again, indirectly forces clubs to provide the best care possible for their players.

Whilst many people are already doing good work, there is a growing awareness and acknowledgement that player welfare in the GAA can still improve.

Saturday’s event was a step in the right direction.

CONTACT: @paudiekissane info@pkperformance.ie

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