Technology in training | The evolution of the GAA

David Smith

The GAA is moving further away from its amateur roots all the time, and technology is beginning to play a big role in the evolution of the game.

Teams at both club and county level are using a plethora of apps, statistics and technologies to improve their performance on and off the pitch.

This can range from simple apps like ‘Map My Run,’ to GPS, to the use of occlusion goggles in training. Video analysis has become an important tool when it comes to preparing for Championship opposition, even at club level.

There is nowhere left to hide.

The increasing importance of technology was portrayed brilliantly in Dara Ó Cinnéide’s new four-part series GAA Nua, which has aired on RTÉ One over the past few weeks.

Clubs and counties have been using GPS for several years to measure players’ running data, and new apps such as FitLight –  allow coaches and managers to monitor speed and acceleration.

A shown in GAA Nua, Dublin club St. Jude’s use the FitLight data collection system to track sprinting speeds and other running data.

Some people are skeptical about an over reliance on technology in the GAA, but the simple truth is that it has become a staple of modern training and match preparation at county (and often club) level.

The Kerry footballers, Dublin footballers, Clare hurlers, the Limerick hurlers and the Wexford camogie teams (to name a few) are also using the Metrifit app – a mobile app that allows management to oversee their players’ well-being and training levels.

It records diets, sleep patterns, stress levels and mood on a daily basis as players input answers on a sliding scale of one to five, and is also used by professional soccer clubs such as Crystal Palace, and American colleges such as Harvard, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Seattle and San Diego.

“I have been using Metrifit since 2012 and find its application essential in the quantifying of both acute and chronic training load and thus heavily influences our training and recovery focus on a daily basis. You don’t really know how your players are responding to training stimuli unless you have daily data and Metrifit provides and easy to use and highly effective means of finding this critical information,” Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice said.

The series also documented Kildare manager Cian O’Neill’s use of occlusion goggles in training to improve spatial awareness, which provoked a mixed reaction.

“These are fascinating tools that we use to develop visual awareness, spatial awareness, anticipation on the ball,” he explained.

“Because they occlude the lower portion of your vision, a lot of it is in relation to developing the kick-pass, the hand-pass, a ball coming towards you and picking it up off the ground.

“Because you can’t see the last three to four metres of that, or you can’t see the ball  actually striking your foot in the kick, it enhances the player’s ability to do that under pressure, and at speed, when they haven’t got the goggles on, which is of course what happens in competition.”

O’Neill – who has PhD in Sport & Exercise Science and is also head of the Department of Sport in Cork IT – says he is willing to look at any extra edge that will give his side an advantage on the field, and Kildare have certainly progressed drastically under his tutelage.

The Lilywhites gained promotion to Division One this year, and have booked their place in the Leinster final after drubbing Meath in the semi-final.

“Sports science is not supposed to take away from the fundamental skills of the game, from the tactical aspects of the game, from how the game should be played, but it’s certainly if harnessed correctly, and appropriately, can inform managers and coaches and players how to be better at what they do in terms of preparation on the pitch and indeed recovery,” he claimed on the show.

Some claim that all these technologies are over-complicating a simple game – and that everything is being overthought – but they now represent a significant role in the life of a modern GAA player, whether we like it or not.

The Waterford hurlers’ use of data collection is all the proof you need. The Déise have a five man team of data analysts – led by Tomás O Cadhla – who record every action in a game, and relay this information to the sideline to manager Derek McGrath, who can then.

“The level of preparation and attention to detail has escalated beyond anything I would have imagined,” Dara Ó’ Cinnéide observed.

“There are negative effects of this escalation but, by and large, it has been positive. Anything that helps the game evolve and helps players perform to the best of their ability, has to be a positive, but we also have to ensure that the games don’t lose their soul.”

Time will tell if that’s the case.