Shadowman Sports is the brainchild of Limerick man, JP Hartigan. The company’s flagship product is a three-part inflatable tackling dummy, fitted with specialised target zones, which teaches players perfect tackling technique. A UL graduate in product design and technology, Hartigan was prompted to develop the product after his rugby career was cut short after an injury.
Combining his studies and his rugby background, Hartigan recognised standard tackling equipment is often badly designed and doesn’t accurately simulate an opposing player. The alternative is player-on-player tackling, which can result in injury.
After designing a prototype and saving the money to secure a patent, Hartigan received assistance from the Limerick Enterprise Acceleration Platform and from Enterprise Ireland, allowing him to develop his product further.
What began as a final year thesis has grown, over six years and 100 prototypes, into an international business with locations in Limerick, Chicago and San Francisco. The company currently has six full-time staff, two interns and 14 sales representatives on its ever-expanding team.
“It’s a tackling aid and it limits player-on-player contact, hopefully reducing concussion risk, especially during practice where many of these injuries occur,” said Daniel Meehan, Logistics and Customer Support Manager for the company.
After the recent Rugby World Cup, the discussion about concussions and other impact injuries gained fresh momentum, not least because of the injuries suffered by Irish players.
While the company began with rugby as its target sport, Shadowman has become hugely popular in American Football, being featured in publications like Forbes and Sports Illustrated. It is now used in more than 900 high schools and by more than 50 of America’s First Division college football programmes.
American football has had its own problems with player safety and over the last decade, high school and university teams have been exploring ways to cut down on injuries and better protect players. The Shadowman dummy — which is made of highly durable PVC — has become an important part of this drive.
One football coach described Shadowman as “the most important innovation in high school and university football since the forward pass”, which was introduced in 1906.
“With new regulations on tackling, Shadowman allows us to tackle at every practice. It will be used in every practice from here on out,” said Paul Hessa, coach at Newman Smith High School in Texas.
“I had limited knowledge of American football when I started here,” admits Meehan. But we now know the game extremely well, and we’ve got great relationships with coaches at high school, college and professional levels. It’s an innovative product that works and one that’s more relevant now than ever, given the injuries we’re hearing about.”
Shadowman is now growing the rugby side of the company and want to expand their team in Limerick in 2016.
“The skills Shadowman teaches are transferable, and any rugby team in the world could benefit from using it,” adds Meehan.