"Henry Shefflin was man of the match in the 2002 All-Ireland final, but was
in possession for a total of 29 seconds"
By Michael Moynihan
THE Tipperary Coaching and Development Committee's seminar on team
preparation drew a big crowd to the Tipperary Institute in Thurles last
Many of the delegates had club or county fleeces and polo shirts and were
clearly keen to learn from a stellar line-up of speakers Babs Keating, Mick
O'Dwyer, Donal O'Grady, Liam Moggan and Dr Liam Hennessy. They weren't
BEFORE YOU START
DONAL O'GRADY, the man who brought inter-county team preparation to a new
level with his attention to detail, stressed the element of preparation in
his presentation not so much the nuts and bolts of hurling drills or running
laps to get ready for games, but preparing the ground before you start.
Preparing to prepare, if you lik
"It's important to know in advance what you'll need," said the 2004
All-Ireland winning coach, who posed a number of practical questions to
Who would be responsible for booking pitches, for hurleys, for sliotars, for
collecting the water bottles after training?
If hurleys are broken, who pays to replace them? What about the training
gear, the bibs and tops who's in charge of those? Are you going to need
cones or flags for drills? Do you need extra help a specialist goal-keeping
coach, or forwards coach, or backs coach? What about the needs of those
"All of that is work, it's time-consuming," said O'Grady. "That needs to be
organised in advance so the coach can concentrate on the players."
He instanced another county's organisational skills when O'Grady took over
the Cork team he was in conversation with another county secretary when the
topic of sliotars came up; O'Grady was impressed to hear that the rival
county maintained a small storehouse, 15ft by 15ft, which was full of
sliotars for the county senior team.
"It's all about removing externals," said O'Grady. "It's about making sure
the players come to training and they're ready to train."
Dealing with players was a two-way street, said O'Grady, pointing out that
hurlers and footballers were treated very differently compared to a
generation ago "you were told what to do" whereas now, young people are
requested to act.
It's a matter of "setting a policy early and adhering to it" when it comes
to players, O'Grady said. "If that's in place, the players have no excuses
and they'll give everything."
Part of that policy is to determine what players and management want from
"You need to establish before starting what success entails for your team,"
said O'Grady. "Is it winning your championship, getting to the semi-final?
If you're coaching an U12 team, is it about getting them to hit the ball off
the ground right and left?"
He had words of comfort for club hurling coaches, pointing out that as a
stickler for correct technique himself, he felt many inter-county hurlers
didn't have a "100% level of technique", pointing out that incorrect
technique had robbed Waterford of a chance of victory in the 2004
"Towards the end, a Waterford forward was inside the Kilkenny full-back line
but he didn't pick the ball properly," said O'Grady.
"His technique let him down. Most inter-county players' speed compensates
for a lack of technique, but when you're coaching the skills, the basics,
it's very important to get them right, to get them carried out correctly,
rather than playing at 100mph."
PSYCHOLOGIST Liam Moggan of the National Coaching and Training Centre got
delegates to consider the power of the mind.
Moggan, who works with snooker player Ken Doherty and has dealt with both
the Clare hurlers and Dublin footballers, summed up his role.
"It's not a matter of me having the answers I'm meant to get those out of
the people I'm working with."
Stressing the power of the process "it's not what, it's how" Moggan was up
front about the difficulties of coaching.
"Improving performance is not straightforward. There's never just one way.
The process is long, and simple things are not always easy."
Moggan used last summer's All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Cork and
Clare to reinforce his point, saying that at half-time, a Clare player had
made a terrific motivating speech to his team-mates; what he didn't know at
that time was that a Cork player had made a similarly inspiring speech in
the Cork dressing room.
"If you look at the last couple of minutes of that game, Cork did the simple
things Seán Óg Ó hAilpín made a couple of catches, Tom Kenny gave a pass
that made the difference. They were simple things, but they weren't easy."
Coaching is about helping players to become independent, said Moggan,
helping them to identify options and find solutions to situations.
Practicing such situations could be refined.
"For a great player like Ken Doherty, it's not necessarily about practising
100 blacks off the cushion. It's about practising one and doing it properly,
because that one chance is all you get."
With that in mind, a coach should facilitate the players' learning in
practice so that their awareness is better and they can gather the
appropriate information at the right time and make the right decision.
To that end, Moggan echoed O'Grady's point about communication and
"Many adult men have difficulty talking about anything other than drink, TV
or women. Yet in the heat of a match, the full-forward line will let the
half-forwards know just how unhappy they are with the quality of ball coming
"Getting players to communicate properly is a big challenge, and it takes
time, but then again, you don't get physically fit the first time you go
"Telling doesn't work.
"There's a time to reinforce commitment and change, during a match, but the
only way to get change, and improvement, is through agreement."
THE IRFU's fitness adviser, Dr Liam Hennessy, has worked with Bayern Munich
and was involved with Tipperary under Babs Keating in the early 1990s.
As befits a Cappawhite man, he came to Thurles when his county board called.
Hennessy caught the attention of the audience by asking whether they, as
coaches, were preparing their GAA teams for the 30-odd minutes the ball
spent in play during a game or the few seconds their players had the ball.
"In 2002, Henry Shefflin was man of the match in the All-Ireland final,"
said Hennessy. "Can anyone guess how long he spent on the ball? He was in
possession for 19 seconds. One of those possessions was for about eight
seconds, so for the rest of the game he spent just over 10 seconds on the
ball. Yet he was man of the match."
Hennessy cited some interesting statistics, referring to analyses of recent
All-Ireland finals which showed periods of play lasted between five seconds
and 52 seconds.
"If I know what it takes to win an All-Ireland, or a club game, then I can
set my fitness targets to achieve that. If the longest cycle of play is 52
seconds and the shortest is five, I'll organise my physical training to
equip players to deal with those."
Hennessy also pointed out that the decline in physical work by players meant
more strength work was necessary for them to manage the physical demands of
"There aren't as many farmers playing or players who do physical work.
Players sitting at desks all day disengage their gluteal muscles and they're
more prone to injuries in that way."
Regarding practicalities, Hennessy queried the worth of lengthy sprints
"going three sides of a field" when research showed that the vast majority
of sprinting in a GAA game was over five to 10 metres.
Warning delegates of the danger of applying training methods that would suit
a middle distance runner to hurlers and footballers, he advised them to
tailor their preparations.
"Most of the acceleration is done over five strides in GAA games. The odd
time a fella on a solo run gets a good break and runs away for 50 metres,
but usually it's over 10 or 15 metres. That's what players should be trained
So there: those cranky corner-backs who moan about running lengths of the
pitch were right all the time.