Kildare are working their way back to the top, with back-to-back League promotions and a first Leinster final appearance since 2009 to their name, writes Stephen Barry.
Led by manager Cian O’Neill, the Head of the Sport Studies Department at Cork IT, Kildare are at the cutting edge of using scientific methods to help achieve on-field success.
GAA teams across the country may be doing anything they can to get an advantage, with training methods rapidly transforming in the past decade, but Kildare’s occlusion goggles are a brand new innovation.
O’Neill told Irish Examiner columnist Dara Ó Cinnéide about the goggles, which help improve players’ awareness and anticipation by reducing their field of vision, on RTÉ One show GAA Nua.
“We're always looking for those marginal gains,” said O’Neill.
“We use different types of ancillary equipment, such as the occlusion goggles. These are fascinating tools that we use to develop visual awareness, spatial awareness, anticipation on the ball.
“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 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, 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.”
The documentary also showed how Kildare use GPS statistics to monitor their players’ top speed and duration when running.
“If it’s not measured, you can’t improve it,” was the motto of Kildare sports scientist Jason McGahan.
It’s something O’Neill is fully behind.
“I love data. I'm a data geek,” said the Kildare manager.
“Anything that I feel can help me to be a better manager, our coaching team to be better coaches, the players to become better athletes, that's what drives me on.
“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 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.
“Every top manager should have great people, knowledgeable people, people with relevant expertise around him or her, and help them to help you, whereby you can then help your players”
You can catch GAA Nua on the RTÉ Player. It also details the Waterford hurlers’ use of statistics in performance analysis, Wexford camogie’s monitoring of players’ fitness and wellbeing and the evolution of kick-out analysis.