QPR FC Sport Scientistlooks at the reasons behind Dublin’s physical dominance.
It is logical that Dublin’s continued presence in the All-Ireland Series each year has helped to develop them as a team in terms of their playing ability.
Extended seasons for teams, however, isn’t limited to technical and tactical improvements, it also leads to greater physical gains and development. The longer the season goes on, the greater amount of contact time the S&C coaches get with their players to bed down those movement patterns and extend their conditioning levels.
Also, once a squad’s run continues into autumn, the closer they are becoming to year-round inter-county players. The merits of which can be debated, but chronic exposure to professional S&C programmes will lead to supremely conditioned players.
A decade ago, Dublin’s Development squads ran an extensive programme. Part of this was a professional S&C pathway. Exposing young players to a comprehensive age-appropriate physical development programme was best practice in the professional rugby world, but not the GAA.
Fast forward 10 years, and Bryan Cullen is well established as Head of Performance for Dublin GAA and players like Jack McCaffrey and Con O’Callaghan now have 10 years of dedicated S&C under their belts.
They have come through a programme of Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD) — prescribed by Cullen and his department of S&C coaches.
To put it into perspective- Kerry employed their first Head of Performance, Jason McGahan, just last year. All other teams are playing catch up.
Three critical factors in developing talent are — organisational structure, a synergy between stakeholders, and the ecology of the system around the player.
For Dublin, Jim Gavin is like a CEO of a large business corporation supporting all his performance staff.
In my day-job, we speak a lot about creating the 24-hour athlete. This is the player who takes their game seriously, eats the right food, is diligent in their recovery, and does extra fitness work when needed. The easy part is doing all this inside the training ground. The harder part is to be as professional outside the club as inside.
Mindset and determination determine how successful an individual can be in this achieving this goal. But also, the environment and support-network you have set up around the player is crucial. Pat Gilroy linked up with experts such as Dr Niall Moyna in DCU and developed structures around the players to allow them to become such 24-hour athletes.
The financial prowess of the county board, player access to agreeable employment and study, and all players living in close vicinity in the county all served to promote this pathway and increase the players’ ability to develop their conditioning even further.
Other pivotal factors in developing talent and physical conditioning are genetics (nature) and deliberate practice (nurture).
With a booming population, Dublin has access to a greater pool of natural talent than any other county.
This has the effect of a race to the summit for its players, where the excellence of the Top Guns drives the development of its next crop of stars.
Dublin has access to youth athletes who are more physically maturated and developed, and with the expertise in coaching and S&C trickling down the age groups, the nurturing of the county’s players is in safe hands. Dublin is obviously also a traditional power, and it’s telling to see many of the current players are sons of Dublin legends. Good genes breed top players. The evidence is unquestionable.
Dublin benefits from several fundamental advantages — large population size, natural athletes with great family genes, and all their players living in close vicinity of each other. The crucial point, however, is they have taken these inherent advantages and maximised their effect.
They’ve created an environment of excellence, with the inclusion of expert S&C professionals, and critically, the addition of a mentally robust and determined set of players. It’s an explosive mix and has resulted in the most supremely conditioned GAA team we have ever seen.