Super 14 kingpins Crusaders set for GAA expertise

THE Canterbury Crusaders are turning to Gaelic football in an effort to reclaim their place at the summit of the Super 14 pile.

The New Zealand outfit is the most successful club side in world rugby having won the Super 14 title – or its predecessor, the Super 12 – seven times and has enlisted the help of Irish strength and conditioning expert Mike McGurn for the upcoming pre-season.

McGurn is best known for his work with the Irish national rugby side and former world boxing champion Bernard Dunne but has also established a reputation in GAA circles after working with the International Rules side and Fermanagh’s senior footballers.

He is currently helping Derry senior side Ballinderry and will bring many of his Gaelic football exercises with him to New Zealand when he hooks up with the Crusaders for two weeks in the near future.

He will not be the first Irishman to bring Gaelic football to a rugby audience. Limerick manager Mickey Ned O’Sullivan toured a number of South African Super 14 clubs imparting advice on high-fielding three years ago.

“It will improve their handling skills because rugby players are unlike Gaelic footballers in that they catch a ball in at their chest whereas Gaelic footballers catch it out front,” said McGurn who hails from Enniskillen.

“It will certainly improve their kicking skills and increase their anaerobic conditioning because I have devised a couple of games which are very specific to Gaelic football and rugby where they are working on fitness during the game.”

McGurn’s plan is to implement the sessions and then leave it to the Crusaders’ conditioning coach Ashley Jones to run the programme once he has left and it is on Jones’ invitation that the Irishman will make the trip.

Like McGurn, Jones has an impressive and varied CV having worked with the All Blacks, the Sydney Kings basketball side and a handful of Australian rugby league teams and the two have been close friends for some time now.

Jones has family in Ballybay, and was an interested spectator at a number of Gaelic football games back in November of 2005 when he visited Ireland with the All Blacks.

“I took him to a couple of games and to a few clubs to watch training and he loved it,” said McGurn. “We see the benefits of cross-fertilisation of sports. You can always get something from rugby union or league or boxing or Gaelic football. It keeps it exciting for the players too.”

McGurn, who turned down the opportunity to join the All Blacks set-up last year for family reasons, has committed to spending a number of weeks with Graham Henry’s side next January.

He has also started his own consultancy having recently moved back to Ireland from Wales where he was strength and conditioning coach with the Ospreys and is eager to “put something back into sport in Ireland” in the years to come.

“Sport has been very good for me. Especially Irish sport. I have a great career and I have seen the world but it’s not all about money. I would gladly travel to, say, Cork to take a session gratis if I could put something back in. I am also looking at maybe the 2012 Olympics. I would love to be involved with the Irish set-up because I was an athlete myself starting off, so there are no real plans. I am just testing the water.”

One offer McGurn won’t be taking up is Joe Kernan’s. The new Galway manager was eager to get McGurn on board next season but, despite being hugely impressed by the facilities in place, the amount of travel required from Belfast was a deal breaker for McGurn who has a young family.

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