When Mark Lyons met up with John Allen he didn’t need too much persuading to get involved with the Limerick hurlers.
Lyons completed a PhD in England three years ago “examining the effects of fatigue on performance in sport.
“It was a very relevant and applied project. That’s where my interests lie, in practical, applied areas.”
Once the Limerick native was sure he could balance the lecturing commitments of his new post, as a lecturer in strength and conditioning) in the University of Limerick, he was on board. Lyons brought expertise from working with a variety of teams and sports in the UK, basketball, soccer — even Thai boxing — but his background was firmly in the GAA.
“I played underage hurling with Kilmallock up to senior level but then I headed to the UK in 1998 to study sports science.
“I carried on playing over there with John Mitchels Hurling Club and Warwickshire in the Nicky Rackard. I loved it and although it was a few levels down, it was a great experience. I was delighted to watch Warwickshire win the Lory Meagher recently — they fully deserved their win.”
Lyons was keen enough to get back to Limerick though, so the UL job was a welcome twist on the career path. “In any new job the first year or two are very busy as you get used to a new organisation, new procedures, moving house and so forth. I met with John Allen in UL and John’s passion for hurling and his commitment to the Limerick lads came across straightaway. He also spoke highly of the current group of players. So he didn’t need to sell the idea to me, it was just a matter of weighing up whether I could balance the Limerick training role with a new job”.
During his baker’s dozen years in the UK, Lyons still made it back for Limerick games. He’s seen the game change somewhat in that time.
“I think the fitness levels of the top hurling teams are very high now,” he says. “Balancing work and other training commitments is probably the most challenging aspect for me. We are trying to ensure players can train hard when required and then recover well.
“However, some players are also playing U21 with Limerick, have club commitments, colleges hurling and some play Gaelic football. This presents a big challenge. Communication with the players is key here as well as regular testing and monitoring of the players to gauge their progress.
“Pulling players from training is something we have done this year, and on occasion cutting training sessions short, decisions which are all being made for the right reasons.”
It does however, require trust, a commodity Lyons says is in plentiful supply in the Limerick set-up.
“On physical training matters, John leaves me to it. It works the same for Donach (O’Donnell) on the skills work and the other members of the backroom team the same. There are a lot of conversations, a lot of forward planning but everyone knows their responsibilities and their role and they are left to do it.”
That planning came to fruition against Tipperary, where observers remarked on Limerick’s driving finish.
“Credit there goes to the players. The players did the hard training in the earlier months, stuck to the gym program, watched their diet, hydration and basically stuck to the plan. These players work very hard on and off the pitch and the result was the culmination of all these things.
“It’s pleasing for everybody in the backroom team. The challenge is to push on again from the Tipperary game, to reach a new level.”
Lyons’ academic background gives him a broad interest in strength and conditioning in GAA. When asked about the demands of training, gym requirements and whether GAA players were starting to train like rugby players, he remarked: “There’s a big difference in training rugby and GAA players. Rugby players do much more gym work than our guys would do and remember GAA players are amateurs. This is not their full time job, they have full time jobs away from hurling. Our guys do two gym sessions a week, tailored to their needs, and for me that’s enough, and they are definitely not trying to ‘bulk up’.
“Strength is important, there’s a lot of hard contact in the game, but other elements of their conditioning need more attention like speed, power and agility. These are key for me.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved