Last Saturday, Tipperary confirmed their senior hurling panel, management and support team had taken the advice of the HSE to restrict their movements for 14 days.
Having returned from Alicante the previous night, they adopted the protocol recommended earlier that day for all those returning to the country from Spain. Working from home and reducing social interactions has been the order of the day for them since then.
The likes of Brendan Maher have taken to getting involved in RTÉ’s “create, don’t contaminate” initiative, while he has encouraged his “bored at home” team-mate Pádraic Maher to get involved also.
Before all that, two of Kiladangan’s Tipperary panellists Willie Connors and Paul Flynn were proactively using their isolation to participate in their club’s 14-day skills challenge on social media. Their first instruction video last Sunday focused on ground striking for five to 11-year-olds with the pair showing a drill for 12 to 16-year-olds pucking a sliotar on alternate sides against a wall and controlling it.
Nobody in Tipperary would be surprised Kiladangan were among the first to utilise this downtime wisely. The Puckane club is one of the most progressive clubs in the country. During current Tipperary assistant manager and selector Darragh Egan’s time as the club’s juvenile chairman in the late 2000s, he ensured all of the senior panel were involved in the coaching of the under-age teams.
At a presentation to Faughs GAA club in Dublin last month, Egan revealed 29 of the last year’s senior Kiladangan panel of 35 were coaching at under-age levels, which in total comprised 120 players in 2019. That’s not to say 35 is the number restricted to senior training: last season there were 64 participating in sessions.
Entitled “Coaching and Culture”, Egan’s talk gave great insight into how a club went from winning no county or north Tipperary titles from the 1970s to the 1990s to winning 11 in the 2010s, from winning five north divisional under-age titles between 1970 and 1989 to 15 in the last decade.
In the mid-1990s, Kiladangan were struggling at junior level, losing to other clubs’ second teams. But with former Laois and Offaly manager Kelly taking over in 2000 backed by a county minor B winning team in 1998, attitudes changed. A winning culture was formed. Seven years later, they claimed an All-Ireland intermediate crown when they beat Carrickshock.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner in 2016 before Kiladangan’s first senior county final appearance since 1938 (they’ve now featured in two of the last four senior deciders), Egan, who became principal of the local national school well before he turned 30 (he’s 34 now), spoke of the culture in the community. “We’ve a massively tight-knit hurling community in the village,” said the club’s current cultural officer.
In his address to Faughs, he explained how that bond became tighter. As a healthy means of using console games, Fifa tournaments were organised to help players to integrate. Irish and Maths grinds were provided for Leaving Cert students. For older teams, recovery sessions would be combined with going for coffee.
Players also took ownership of the club by taking lead roles in fundraising. The complex in Puckane, which cost €700,000, is now completely debt free. While exchange programmes with Antrim club Dunloy have broadened minds and cultivated friendships beyond the parish and county.
On the coaching side of things, Egan stressed the importance of looking outside the coaching bubble.
Gaelic football, American football, rugby and soccer have fuelled his philosophy while he pointed out Corofin’s three-in-a-row All-Ireland Club SFC winners had gleaned plenty from Egan’s fellow Tipperary management member Eamon O’Shea, and former Galway United manager Shane Keegan.
Like the great hurling apostle Paudie Butler has so often preached, Egan pointed out how essential getting the correct-sized hurley for juvenile players is. Often it was the case that the most suitable hurley was judged as one that measured from your hip to the heel of the bás touching the ground. Now the fitting is slightly more sophisticated. It should almost touch the ground when held in a relaxed position at a player’s side at a slight angle.
The weight of it is vital too. If a player can’t do a fencing drill with another for 30 seconds (ie hold aloft the hurley while it is being knocked left and right), the chances are the hurley is too heavy and will impact the swing and strike.
Although star players like Aaron Gillane are now known to use hurleys as small as 31 inches, a short hurley for a young hurler will have a similarly adverse effect and limit the length of a strike.
For all the worth there is to the wall drill illustrated by Connors and Flynn, Egan warns it can lead to bad habits as the player is not just receiving the ball in a relatively stationery position but they’re not pucking it moving forward either. Attacking the ball has never been more essential in the game as it is now.
Teaching fundamental movements such as jumping, catching, kicking, skipping and throwing in primary school was also stressed. As principal, Egan has been able to ensure that is followed in his school but the emphasis on hurling has altered too.
Speaking before last year’s county final defeat to would-be All-Ireland runners-up Borris-Ileigh, former manager Kelly spoke of how Egan had changed the approach to the game in education when in Kelly’s time as a pupil nobody was permitted to bring a hurley into the school. “Darragh would have himself and maybe Paddy Gallagher out coaching at lunch-time,” he told OurGame. “That’s where you have to feed from.
“Darragh is a walk in principal and that suits him fine. That man, what he has done for… like on the field he has been an absolute revelation for us. He gave a few years there teaching in Carrick before he became principal in Puckane and it’s no coincidence that anywhere he’s gone, there has been success and that could be mapped across with the Tipp seniors as well. He’s really preaching the gospel.”
Egan also underlined to Faughs’ coaches education on strength and conditioning as well as coaching the tackle, but the necessity of fun in training and to ensure complete engagement from those doing the sessions keeping the activities short, snappy and intense.
Moving away from or at least altering traditional warm-up skill drills like pucking the ball to one another across a field is something he also advocated. By way of an example, he proposed coaches instruct players to spread out to form the shapes of letters. That way, things aren’t so linear as is often not the case in matches.
As Kiladangan come to the halfway point of their 14-day skills challenge, it will likely need to be extended as the country maintains its coronavirus precautions.
On Twitter, Egan himself has offered to send on coaching manuals to those interested in keeping themselves occupied. In this time of great uncertainty, one thing is certain: Egan and Kiladangan will be keeping themselves busy.