JON Kenny in his famous D’Unbelievables sketch immortalised the stereotypical GAA club manager.
The slightly unhinged middle-aged man with a disdain for tactics and a desire to inspire with some rousing if agricultural rhetoric.
Hysterical stuff because as was often the case it was true.
But the Timmy Ryan character is, of course, of a bygone era.
The modern day GAA club manager is an altogether more sophisticated creature, someone who must alternate between a velvet glove and an iron fist, delegate as well as lead, condone as much as condemn.
As the inter-county scene rubs its eyes this week, so too do club teams around the country, lest we forget.
Here, five people proven in their fields offer up some pearls of wisdom to those hoping to plot their way to success in 2012.
GALWAY’S Frank Doherty was Clare manager from the end of 2007 to 2009 after guiding Caltra to a first All-Ireland senior club title in 2004. Last year, he led Galway side Kilconly to their first intermediate county championship crown, their first title in 68 years.
“It’s probably an obvious thing to say but you have to be committed. If you don’t put yourself into it — and by that I mean giving your mind, body and soul to it — there’s no point doing it.
“The first thing I would advise is not to be a dictator. You have to keep players on side. You have to know what makes them tick. Not every player is the same and you have to treat them differently. Working with them is so much easier than working against them.
“You have to find a balance between fun and intensity. You have to be hard-line as well as the nice guy. Going down the road of being one or the other won’t work.
“Treat players as adults and as men and make sure training is as enjoyable as possible. This past year with Kilconly, they won an intermediate championship and a league title and it was about making them believe.
“You’ve to be your own man too. Before taking over Clare, I never went to a county training session in my life. I never asked what the county were doing. If you’re successful yourself you’re doing something right. If you don’t believe in yourself then the players are hardly going to do it.
“Of course, you look at certain things in relation to what has gone before but it has to be your own way. Don’t read too much into what has gone before. You see counties copying other counties but above all you have to have supreme faith in your own ability.
“It goes without saying you have to be a people person. You’ve to relate with the club chairman and secretary and be prepared to fundraise for the training of the team. That’s the way it is in the current climate — there are only so many things you can do with the finances a club has at its disposal.
“Showing respect to the club is vital too. You can’t tear the club out of it for physio bills and what have you because they have to pay the bills as well. Talk to the club, tell them what you’d like to do but recognise what’s in the best interests of the club. It’s important that everyone’s singing off the same hymn-sheet.
“As for the players, I found most of them to be as honest as anyone you’ll find. Be upfront with them and they’ll respond. If they see the results of what you’re doing they’ll continue to listen to what you’re saying and doing with them.”
DUBLIN’S former All Star and 1995 All-Ireland winning midfielder Paul Clarke won four consecutive Leinster titles as selector and coach alongside Paul Caffrey. He now coaches St Sylvesters who topped AFL Senior Division 1 last year as well as Dublin City University’s freshers football team and helping out his own club Whitehall Colmcilles.
“Working with Sylvesters seniors and doing a bit with Whitehall at intermediate level, the amount of work being done with each group is pretty much the same.
“Right now, fellas have wintered well or done very well. The bigger clubs would have done a bit of gym work before Christmas but it’s only when fellas turn up at training these couple of weeks that they get back into it.
“The training should reflect that. In this weather, it’s important to provide a facility that makes them want to be there and makes them enjoy it.
“That’s not to say it’s not going to be hard work but if you create the right atmosphere you’re on your way.
“This isn’t the time of year for any fancy techniques. I’m hearing of clubs using ladders for fast feet work in January. That’s all well and good when the ground is hard but it defeats the purpose with all the muck on the pitches right now.
“You won’t win matches in the early season like that; you win matches when you’ve done a bit of running and you’re conscious of what the lads are doing and making sure they have rest.
“I try and take note of what distances guys are doing in a night. It might be 2,000 metres broken into 10 sets of 100m, 10 sets of 50m and the rest done in 20m and 30m sprints.
“At this time of year, you give them more recovery than at the peak of the season. I’d have a five to one ratio, five times the amount of recovery for that run. So if it were 30 seconds I’d break for two and a half minutes.
“Then in February I might increase it the total distance for a night to 2,400m but the recovery ratio would drop to four to one and so on until May or June when you reduce the running to make things shorter and sharper as well as the recovery times.
“You have to have a plan. You can’t do any old random thing and expect players to respond to it. If you have a good session keep it in the memory bank and remember what it was that make it a rewarding one.
“You’ve to keep things fresh too. For example, I set up a little league table made up of randomly selected groups in the panel.
“They might be groups of four, five or six and I’d stopwatch them for 100m or 200m runs, taking the time of the first fella to finish the run and the last, adding the times together and getting the average.
“You keep the same groups the next night and see if they can improve. It creates that bit of competition in the group but it’s also a bit of craic too.
“How you get the ball work going at this time of year depends on the club facilities. If you are training under a street light at the corner of a pitch then you’re limited and really it’s only at the weekend in daylight when you can do that.
“There are certain things you can do like using the recovery breaks to do a hand-pass drill and working on the basic skills. It’s much better than lads sitting on their arses or grabbing their knees.
“Speaking to the physio is necessary at this time of year. He or she should be a big part of pre-season training because their suggestions will help avoid injuries.
“They’ll be saying not to do too much straight-running so players won’t be going full tilt or tear hamstrings. Right now, the groins, the calves and the ankles aren’t strong enough so it’s a case of easing the fellas into it.”
NENAGH-based John Casey is one of the most highly-regarded physios in the country. The Tipperary hurlers swear by him, particularly 2010 hurler of the year Lar Corbett who credits Casey with helping him overcome chronic hamstring problems to win All Stars the last three year. The Kilruane McDonaghs man has also worked with the Munster rugby team.
“You’ve got to get to know your players and by that I mean you really need to get a handle on previous injuries. John Murphy’s study in UCD on injuries shows that up to 25% of injuries are recurring ones.
“That means something is going wrong in the first place so get somebody you know and trust with injuries because the last thing you want is to be compromised by what’s gone before you.
“There are lots of injury prevention strategies and most of our work is taken from other field sports. The likes of soccer are further down the line in terms of research but it’s vital to keep things simple.
“A few additional exercises added into training to prevent hamstring injuries and some gentle core exercises to avoid lower back problems are in order. In Gaelic football, shoulder injuries are more prevalent than in hurling so that should be accommodated in training. Outside of that, whatever injuries are specific to the player should be worked on with their own set of exercises.
“After that, all I’d be saying is there has to be communication between all sides. Somebody working in one area, say coaching, might spot something relevant in another area.
“The bar has been raised so high now at club level and managers are looking to gain an advantage they can get in every aspect.
“But there has to be some level of regulation as to who is doing the training just as there has to be control on just who is handling the injuries.
“People of varying different qualifications are doing this work but definitely a lot of the stuff is lost in translation.
“The injury on everyone’s lips at the moment is the anterior cruciate ligament injury. It all comes down to preparation. Gym work has increased dramatically in clubs and certainly around Nenagh there are more and more club doing it earlier in the season. “The focus appears to be on strengthening and powering up quads but neglecting the hamstrings, which participate in reverse running, moving side to side and speeding up and slowing down. That causes an imbalance around the knee.
“I come back to communication — the more structured sessions are, the more structured time is spent in the gym the better it is for the player and the manager.”
FERMANAGH man Mike McGurn has a number of strings to his bow from rugby league to GAA, his latest achievement being his work with the victorious Ireland International Rules team in Australia. The former Ireland national rugby team’s fitness trainer, McGurn’s CV was part of the Armagh backroom team and has been involved with reigning All-Ireland club champions Crossmaglen Rangers.
“One of the things that frustrates me is the amount of club managers who go looking for the programmes of the players at county level. They have to stop doing that. It’s unrealistic.
“What they have to do is prescribe their own programmes based on what level their players are at. You don’t need to be as fit or as strong as county players at club level to be successful.
“I did a bit of work with Crossmaglen and I’d take a leaf out of Tony McEntee’s book here when I say concentrate on the skills more than anything else.
“He’s massive on making his players more skilful, more so than on the training aspect and he teaches them how to kick and how to make runs. He teaches them how to time their runs.
“That will get your lot further than throwing all your eggs in the one basket. I just think club managers get too bogged down with strength and conditioning. You don’t need to be this fit and this strong to win club matches.
“The more skilful team will invariably win.
“If they get into a system of playing they have an advantage because right now there’s too much training and not enough coaching going on.
“The better-coached teams, the Crossmaglens, the Kildares, the Dublins... they’re the teams that will come out on top in the end because they’ve systems and game-plans.
“Two sessions a week is more than adequate for a club right now, whether it be a Monday and a Wednesday, or a Tuesday and a Thursday and each session no more than an hour or an hour and 15 minutes.
“Everything should be done with the ball, every single part of it. There should be a lot of kicking done too. More people are realising the value of kicking if it’s done right but for that to happen it has to be practised regularly.
“A club manager must never forget that the majority of these boys have to go to work or to college the following day.
“This time of the year it’s understandable that the concentration is on fitness work but I’m certain it’s the skills that will set club teams apart, not their strength and conditioning.”
SHARON MADIGAN’S experience as a performance nutritionist ranges from working with the high performance boxing team to the inter-county teams such as the Dublin hurlers and the Down and Donegal footballers. The Ulster rugby team are among her current clients.
“Keeping things simple would be my mantra. Hoi polloi stuff with all the bells and whistles like getting players to take creatine and supplements doesn’t always work.
“For example, giving protein supplements to the older player who has to mind their weight won’t work because it’s just adding on stuff they need to get rid of. It curtails their ability to eat normal which will help them to run.
“Clubs have to be mindful of their underage players especially at this time of year when some of them might be playing college football as well.
“With an emphasis on running, their weight drops and they can’t manage to maintain their weight. The problem is their calorie counts are dropping. The young players are a crucial group. It’s imperative that they have something to eat and drink before and after training and if the club can provide post-training meals, even if it’s just a pint of milk and a sandwich, that’s great. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
“I’ve spoke to young players who work as plasterers and labourers who have come away from training feeling more tired than they would after a day’s work. Recovery is essential for them if they are to avoid burnout.
“Alcohol, of course, is something that has to be managed and respected. You’ll often find club players keeping away from it during the week in January and February but having a few at the weekend.
“Bear in mind that five pints can add up to the equivalent of almost 1,500 calories.
“Keeping players hydrated at this time of year can be difficult because they don’t want to be taking on fluids on a cold, wet pitch but it has to be done. Drinking water and the like gets them in the habit of doing it for later in the season and the games. It also ensures they’re not using up carbohydrates as quickly and helps to avoid cramp.”
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