MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Bringing GAA analysis into 21st century

Disclosure time. The TV programme on RTÉ One this evening, GAA Nua, is a project that is well known to me.

The idea for the series arose at the Web Summit a couple of years ago, when Damien Comolli, once of Liverpool and Tottenham, gave a terrific talk about the role of data and analytics in signing players, which included how goals in the top Dutch professional league are evaluated against goals in the English Premier League — whether a player scoring 30 goals in the former could be reliably expected to score 10, for instance, in the latter.

Comolli referred to a player he helped sign, Luis Suarez, specifically in this context (though not, as the wag next to me whispered, Andy Carroll). The Web Summit is just the location for proselytising about computer-generated assistance in all facets of modern life, of course. Based on Comolli’s evangelising work, I looked into the GAA’s adoption of data and analytics across player evaluation, fitness work, and medical developments, and after about 30 seconds, found no end to it.

You’ll be able to see the results of the investigation starting this evening, but some of the lessons learned along the way which didn’t make the final cut were also pretty memorable.

An expert in one of the areas covered recounted off-camera how the developers of one app designed to help athletes improve had made an impressive presentation on its capabilities, and what the algorithm could do, and what it would mean for the team.

The presentation declined in quality, however, when the designers’ only answer to every question about the functioning of the app was that “it was all in the algorithm”, with no further detail added. Shades of the Wizard of Oz lurking behind a curtain.

There are any number of starting points for discussion in the series, such as the implications for county boards and clubs all over the country of adopting expensive technology, the questions of privacy and data in collating what are vast amounts of personal information, and the sheer mystery about what comes next in terms of sporting technology.

There can be no doubt that the graph goes upwards. Technology as basic as the football boot and the jersey improves and streamlines from year to year, never mind decade to decade: a quick flick through YouTube proves that.

Where does that graph come to an end? In another lifetime I’d love to have had the time to sit down and have a chat with Chris Kluwe, the former NFL player who came up with the best sports biography title of all time (Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities).

In a Ted talk a couple of years back Kluwe said about the future direction of sports technology: “The most outlandish thing I can think of—I’d say there’s maybe 25% chance of it actually happening—is the idea of actually replacing human bodies with artificial bodies in terms of sports. Where people will either remotely access or log in, in a fashion, to an artificial body. If it’s a robot body, or something constructed with synthetic polymers, something like that, in order to reduce the risk of injury to actual human beings.”

An intriguing prospect. Maybe the next time I’ll get Chris to fly over for a Munster championship match, ask him what he thinks hurlers will be using in the next century.

  • GAA Nua, RTÉ One tonight at 7.30pm and continues for the next three Mondays

 

What cost for McGregor fans?

The older you get, the more you despair of the young folk.

Last Saturday I was in a sports shop despairing at something else (35 notes for a t-shirt? Really?) when I overheard a couple of teenagers, who weren’t blinking at the price of the clothing but at the price of tickets for the upcoming McGregor-Mayweather... event.

Before I moved on, in fairness, they did as well.

“Mahony, boy” got a mention. So did “Lehane, boy”. And “Seany, boy”, of course. Maybe there’s hope for the youth after all.

I didn’t fancy that t-shirt in light pink, mind. Olive green was more your colour, McGregor fan.

 

Gladwell takes on world of golf

Malcolm Gladwell has returned with the second run of his podcast series, Revisionist History, in which he considers, or reconsiders, matters deserving further examination.

Last year, for instance, he discussed the free-throw style of NBA star Rick Barry, one of the few to use an underhand, lobbing motion which was simultaneously a) very successful and b) off-putting to the macho men of professional basketball, and not copied by many of them.

Gladwell’s season opener this time around is a discussion of privilege in America by way of the property taxes paid by private golf courses — those taxes are sometimes astonishingly low, which ties in with Gladwell’s view of golf as “crack cocaine for rich white guys”.

Among the gems discovered by Gladwell is the devotion shown by chief executives to golf. Said executives are trapped by their own vanity in posting their scores on a public database, thus revealing that one of them, for instance, plays a round every three days. Many play up to 30 full rounds a year.

It’s reasonable to infer from such revelations that Gladwell may not be a golf fan, but he’s a little stronger — and more overt — than that. He says he hates golf, adding, “Hopefully, at the end of this (podcast), you’ll hate golf, too.” Golf World published a rebuttal of sorts, though I use the word “rebuttal” advisedly. (Sample sentence: “Is 20-to-30 rounds a year that unforgivable?”).

All good knock-about fun. Until Gladwell pointed out that it’s one thing if the chief executive of a privately-owned company decides to helicopter out of Manhattan of an evening to play a round in New Jersey before sunset — listen and you’ll hear which company — but it’s something quite different when the President of the United States goes to his own golf course so many times a month... well, you fill in the rest.

Classic intro from Maine man Acquisto

The search is already over for the ‘best opening to a news story’ awards, thanks to this classic from Alex Acquisto of the Bangor Daily News (Maine, US):

“While jogging on a familiar, overgrown, wooded trail near her home on a recent warm afternoon, Rachel Borch thought to herself, ‘what a beautiful day.’ Little did she know she was about to be attacked by a rabid raccoon she would end up killing with her bare hands.” Poetry. Alex Acquisto, we salute you.


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