PADDY HEANEY: Black card already slowing down would-be offenders

Early in the first half of Saturday’s All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final, St Vincent’s corner-back Michael Concarr went on a solo-run which covered the entire length of the pitch.

Concarr made several of these forays during the game. At the end of one odyssey, he fed the ball to Tomás Quinn who scored the opening goal.

In the second half, another 100-metre solo-effort led to a free-kick which was converted. With those two runs, Concarr made a major contribution of four points. St Vincent’s beat Ballinderry by four points.

Would Concarr have ever got out of his own half if the black card wasn’t in force? It’s a moot point. Last year the St Vincent’s corner-back could have been hauled down in his own defence and the move would have been nipped in the bud.

Looking at a recording of the game, it appeared that Ballinderry simply couldn’t get a hand on Concarr. Caught napping by quick kick-outs, once he got going, Concarr was too fast, and too strong.

Moreover, Concarr’s performance on Saturday has further underlined the importance which leg power will have under the new rules.

Make no mistake, the black card is going to force a major re-think among the experts who are paid to devise theconditioning programmes for inter-county players.

Under the old rules, significant benefits could be reaped from bulging biceps that could bench press a small car. Those muscles were extremely useful when stopping a player from making an overlapping run. But the black card has reduced those advantages. Anyone who collides with a player making his way up the pitch is going to force the linesman or referee to make a decision. And as every player knows, anything can happen in that situation.

From now on the big advantages will be reaped from leg power. Legs that can run hard for an entire game. Legs that break tackles. Legs that carry the ball the length of the field. Legs like Michael Concarr’s.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that weight-training will become redundant. Nothing could be further from the truth. It just means that a greater emphasis will be placed on the lower-body rather than the upper-body.

The best advertisement for this type of weight-training isCristiano Ronaldo. Once a gangly, spotty teenager with a penchant for step-overs and tricks that came to nothing, Ronaldo has since transformed himself into one of the game’s all-time greats. While soccer is largely a skill-based sport, Ronaldo’s total dedication to resistance-based training has helped him to become the current World Footballer of the Year.

Mike Clegg was one of the people who helped Ronaldo achieve his potential. Clegg was Manchester United’s power development coach between 2000 and 2011.

In an interview with BBC Sport, Clegg revealed that Ronaldo’s physical evolution came from the manner in which he mastered strength work-outs. Olympic lifts, a specific type of weight-training were his speciality. These are total body exercises performed with perfect technique at an explosive pace.

The interview stated that “dead lifts and power cleans were two favourites” in Ronaldo’s gym routine.

Feted and worshipped as a global superstar, it’s worth remembering that Ronaldo wasn’t an immediate success at Old Trafford. In his first two seasons, Alex Ferguson agreed a pre-season wager over the number of goals he would score. Ferguson set targets of 10 and 15. Ronaldo failed each year.

But Ronaldo’s dedication to training never waned. When his team-mates had showered and gone home, he would remain at Carrington where he would strap weights to his ankles and perfect his step-overs.

Last year, the Portuguese star scored 66 goals in 56appearances.

Incredibly, there are still people within the GAA who are openly sceptical about weight-training. An inter-county manager who didn’t want to be named, believes that such thinking isn’t just misguided, it’s dangerous.

A convert to the Olympic lifting techniques which Ronaldo mastered, he said: “When performed properly, this type of training increases mobility, it increases agility, it’s improves a player’s ability to turn.

“That helps your explosiveness. Every player needs good speed off the mark. They need to be able to react to breaking ball. You need that explosive power to break tackles.”

Pointing to the danger of ignoring resistance-based training, he said: “Most decent club players are now using the gym,” he said.

“Even in a club game you can have some seriously powerful men on the field. If your body isn’t equipped to absorb a heavy hit, then you’re in danger of getting badly injured.”

While weight training will enhance power, there is still only one way to improve your ability to run fast for an entire game. You have to run. About 25 years ago, it was common practice at this time of the year for club players to spend the entire night jogging around the pitch. Those days are over. We now know that slow laps of the pitch are of zero benefit to Gaelic footballers.

However, in the fitness revolution that followed this epiphany, some coaches went to the other extreme. Some coaches would proudly boast that their players never did a run that was longer than 50 metres. More fool them.

Research has shown that inter-county players operating between the half-back and half-forward lines will cover around six miles in a game. During the course of a match, there will only be a few occasions when they are operating at full throttle.

The more enlightened coaches never got sucked into vogue for 20-metre shuttle runs. Under the watchful eye ofSeamus McGeown, an athletics coach, Crossmaglen would regularly do 30 x 200 metre runs.

The circuit would have to be completed in 34 seconds. This isn’t a sprint. The session is designed to aid sprint endurance, in other words, your ability to sprint in the 60th minute.

At the start of the year, there would be 90 seconds recovery between each run. As the Championship approached, the recovery time would be reduced.

The aforementioned inter-county manager employs a different drill. He calls it: ‘The 180’.

It comprises 3 x 60 metres sprints. After each sprint, the player does a five second tackling drill. Each set involves 3 x 60 metre sprints and three tackling drills.

At this time of year, the players get 90 seconds recovery between each set. In the weeks leading up to Championship, the recovery time can be reduced to as little as 20 seconds.

Typically, over the course of a night his sessions are designed so that the players will cover around six to seven-and-a-half-miles during their 70 minutes on the pitch.

In a game that had become increasingly dominated with wrestling matches and off-the-ball collisions, Gaelic football had become a sport where it paid to have arms that could hit hard.

But if the black card works, we are going to have a game where it pays to have legs that can run hard.

The first managers to absorb that lesson are going to be a step ahead of the pack.


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