Running the rule over the best young footballers in his AFL Talent Combine in UCD this past weekend, the 2009 All-Ireland winner said their physiques are better than those of similar ages in Australia.
However, he is concerned that the strength and conditioning programmes in the sport are too focused on bulking up players and considers a lot of injuries are down to poor advice and direction.
“The average testing scores are quite close. We just left the top 18-year-old kids in Australia with the draft two weeks ago. It’s pretty much the exact same testing as we’ve been doing here and the averages are very close. If anything, the Irish boys are probably passing them out physically.
“But the AFL is going back to players losing weight, stripping it back, whereas Gaelic players are going the other way, which people need to be very careful with. There needs to be proper programmes put in place because you can go the other way as a footballer. It’s all well and good doing weight training, strength and conditioning and what-not, but the players need to be properly trained to play the game.
“If you’re a half-back you don’t want to be 90 kilos of muscle. You need to have a programme that’s specific to you. That’s what the AFL does very well: if you’re a full- forward they will put you on a programme to put on size; if you’re a running half-back they will give you a programme to lose weight.
“That’s something the GAA need to be very careful with because there are a lot of hip injuries and a lot of injuries from programmes not being read properly and set out by cowboy S&Cs. But people keep getting involved without a whole lot of research and understanding of it.”
Kennelly admits there remains a stereotypical view of Irish players as big men in Australia. “We’ve 11 players here over six foot and by AFL terms that is huge. We’ve six players over 6ft 3in. That’s huge. There’s an athlete type of AFL footballer but the game itself still has small players. There was a one metre 68cm (5 feet 6 inches) player, Caleb Daniel, who played in the Grand Final who was fourth in the young player of the year (voting). But there is a stereotype about an Irish player’s height and physique, which is attractive to clubs.”