Christy O'Connor: S&C culture in GAA can't take from skill development

Emphasis physical preparation can have a negative impact on teenagers
Christy O'Connor: S&C culture in GAA can't take from skill development

Limerick coach Paul Kinnerk believes in games-based coaching but also improving skills in isolation. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

WHEN Karol Dillon recently submitted his dissertation in UL as part of his Masters in Sports Performance, Dillon’s body of work revolved around a study involving 14 players and five coaches and managers with experience of Division 1 inter-county football.

Focusing on one of Gaelic football's core principles – the ability to kick or hand pass from the so-called weaker (non-dominant) side – Dillon investigated how players and coaches view the importance of being bilateral (two-sided), the challenges to becoming two-sided, and how players and coaches develop both sides.

With 450 pages of transcripts, a multitude of different strands coursed through the study. One interesting aspect is how being two-sided was seen as affecting not just the player in possession, but the team as a whole.

A one-sided midfielder or centre-forward was seen as impacting the ability of an inside forward to get the ball, or what run he has to make. Something that basic also impacted on the team’s tactics, especially if the opposition had identified it from the outset as a weakness. And that’s a given now in an age of high-tech performance analysis.

Dillon was able to detail how the increased culture of strength and conditioning has resulted in “a metaphorical tug of war between skills development and physical preparation”.

In many inter-county set-ups, the increased S&C culture has led to a move away from skills development. With some underage development squads now heavily focused on S&C and nutrition, that runs the risk of placing those areas ahead of what development should really be all about – developing all-round footballers who can carry out the core skills of the game under pressure.

There can never be enough time spent on honing and developing individual skills – at all levels – but particularly for younger players. In Paul Kilgannon’s outstanding new book ‘Be the Best You can Be in Sport – a Book for Irish Youth’, Chapter 6 forensically deals with that application in training towards developing those skills.

On that whole area of maximising application within training sessions, Paul Kinnerk, coach of the Limerick hurlers, writes about the importance of creating time for isolated skills practise.

“You should identify areas of your game that you wish to improve such as your weaker side,” writes Kinnerk, “and use the unpressurised environment before training to accumulate a large number of executions of the isolated skill.” 

Kinnerk’s contribution is just one of 55 from some of the top coaches, mentors, managers, coach educators, academics and professionals in Irish sport. A number of current and former players across a broad range of sports also offer their words of wisdom for young sportspeople.

The contributors range from Stuart Lancaster to Henry Shefflin, Rena Buckley, Paudie Butler, Eamon O’Shea, Rob Heffernan, Liam Moggan, Kieran Donaghy, Bundee Aki, Kevin Doyle, Eddie Brennan, Nadia Power, Mick McCarthy, Joey Carbery, Michael Fennelly, Billy Walsh, Valerie Mulcahy to Jason Sherlock.

Cork legend Valerie Mulcahy. Picture: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Cork legend Valerie Mulcahy. Picture: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Some of the best contributions are from coaches or figures who may not be as well-known but who are some of the leading practitioners in their field. The chapter on Performance Analysis, which is written by David Morris and Mark McAreavey, is particularly outstanding.

Both are GAA Level 4 Performance analysts while Morris is also one of the most innovative football coaches in the game, having coached Corofin to four All-Ireland club titles.

Morris and McAreavey cover a multitude of areas but the detail is incredible in advising how to utilise and harness those concepts to create a ‘Personal Improvement Plan’ and a pathway of continuous improvement for the individual athlete.

“Performance analysis is a relatively simple process and those who are most effective at it simplify it best,” write Morris and McAreavey. “Your challenge is to get to know your sport and your role within your sport. You must then learn to honestly and appropriately appraise your performance and take from this, useful insights that will help you to ‘get better at getting better’.” 

Kilgannon is one of Ireland’s leading coach educators. His first book ‘Coaching Children in Sport - The Carver Framework’ was a treasure while his latest tome seeks to inspire Irish youths to practise self-improvement and self-coaching in sport and beyond. The principles with Kilgannon, and the contributors, write about also transcend sport.

Every area is catered for. John Duggan writes about sport-specific speed; Dave Hanly discusses movement efficiency; Damien Young covers multi-sport activity; Tony Óg Regan, the former Galway hurler and now renowned performance psychologist makes contributions in six different chapters, where Regan takes the reader through eight different skills.

Information and insightful stories are dripping off every page. 

Jonny Cooper of Dublin in action against Eoin Buggie of Laois. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Jonny Cooper of Dublin in action against Eoin Buggie of Laois. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Dublin footballer Jonny Cooper tells of taking a General George S. Patton speech, adapting it before Na Fianna’s U14 Feile, and dropping a copy in each of his team-mates bags. Na Fianna didn’t win the Feile but that wasn’t the point for Cooper.

“Some of my team-mates missed the point,” he writes. “Others had tears in their eyes and for some it was motivation, but as a whole, it connected me with them in a different way than was the norm.” 

At the end of the book, there are QR codes from everything from S&C exercises to wall drills to watching footage of some of the world’s greatest sportspeople. The appendix also includes affirmation scripts and sample recipes of porridge bread and homemade pizza.

In the introduction, Kilgannon writes how his book is not one about comparison, because comparing yourself to others can often lead to unhappiness.

“The only great person and athlete you can be is the greatest version of yourself,” writes Kilgannon. “You are enough.” 

And Kilgannon’s book is a superb guide in helping young Irish sportspeople be the best they can be.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more