GAA Football

Clonoe and McDonnell bring in McGurn for fitness edge

Mike McGurn in his time as Ireland International Rules fitness trainer
Francis Mooney

THE search for that vital edge in a game of fine margins has led Clonoe O'Rahilly's to one of Ireland's leading Strength and Conditioning coaches.

Mike McGurn has been tasked with empowering a group of talented footballers to find the fractional advantage which could make all the difference in the country's most competitive championship.

Manager Stevie McDonnell has worked with the Fermanagh native in the past during his time as an attacking ace with Armagh and the Ireland International Rules side, and later as manager of Killeavy.

And he believes McGurn can add something extra at O'Rahilly Park.

McDonnell's first season with the club witnessed promise and progress in a decent League campaign, but the most difficult of draws in a straight knock-out Championship saw them pitted against neighbours Coalisland, and they lost out narrowly in a fierce derby contest at Edendork.

With McGurn adding his expertise to the set-up, All-Ireland winner McDonnell is hoping he can lead the O'Rahilly's to a ninth county title and a first since 2013.

"I wasn't expecting the call, but it was great to get it," said McGurn, who is head of Strength and Conditioning at Queen's University in Belfast.

He returns to the GAA for the first time since 2017, when he trained the LamhDhearg team to Antrim SFC triumph.

That was his fourth Championship success in four different counties, having coached Ballinderry to Derry and Ulster titles, Kilcoo to silverware in Down and Crossmaglen to a string of Armagh, Ulster and All-Ireland wins.

"After the great experience I had at LamhDhearg, club football for me is where I want to be, it's where I enjoy.

"I said to myself, if I ever go back into the GAA, it will be with a club.

"And when Stevie came calling, it was perfect, because I had worked with Stevie before.

"I had made a decision some time ago that the only people I would ever work with again in gaelic football would be Aidan O'Rourke, Steven McDonnell and Anthony Tohill, because I found them all brilliant in the past."

He may be a newcomer to Tyrone football, but there'll be few surprises for a man who has kept himself abreast of the annual tumult in the Red Hand county.

"Tyrone football is fantastic, it is so competitive. And the people of Tyrone are fanatical about their football.

"I used to run a lot of courses, and if I ran one in, say, in Antrim or Fermanagh, if I got 40, 45 people turning up, it wouldn't be too bad.

"But if you put a course on in Tyrone, it's sold out in a day.

"Tyrone people just love football, and Tyrone football is great."

The Clonoeplayers emerge from sporting lockdown this week to engage with one of the leading lights in the world of coaching.

But rather than been present with a complicated set of sophisticated drills, techniques and lifestyle doctrine, they will encounter a man with a straightforward approach to the attainment of peak performance.

"To get a performance it's a simple equation, you need two things – talent times environment.

"If me and Stevie and the other coaches can provide the environment for them, from what I hear there are some very good footballers in Clonoe, very skilful footballers, if we can get that right, then who knows where it can take us?

"But we need to get that environment right, and you have to have the talent on top of that. There's no point in having one without the other. It won't work.

"And you could have the best squad of players in Tyrone, but not the right environment, it's not going to work either.

"I have a simple philosophy. The more you bleed in training, the less you bleed in competition.

"If you make training so hard, so intense and so specific, playing a match on the weekend shouldn't be that great a difference, if you've got your preparation right.

"There shouldn't be a big divide between what you do in training and when you play.

"I'm a big believer in being sports-specific and position-specific.

"When we get up and running, we will start to divide them up into different positions. For example, a corner forward will train differently to a wing back."

McGurn feels that if the Clonoe players have sufficient belief in their own ability, they can go all the way for the first time in eight seasons.

"For me, there is no ceiling. It's about what they really want."

The sudden death drama of the penalty shoot-out took the Tyrone Championship by storm last year, and the finish-on-the-day protocol looks set to extend to a second season in 2021.

Clonoe were not subjected to spot kick torture, but it's a prospect they must prepare themselves for should the situation arise.

"That just adds to the intensity of the occasion and the mentality you have to bring.

"It all has to happen on the day, there is no tomorrow.

"That's something you practice in training, so that when it comes to the white hot heat of championship, you're ready."

McGurn believes the intense nature of the club scene has played a crucial role in the county's success.

Three All-Ireland titles in the noughties brought Tyrone to previously unseen levels, and the Red Hands have maintained their standing as a top four force ever since.

"It's very intense and competitive. I think Tyrone club football has made Mickey Harte's job so much easier over the last twenty years, because all the preparation work has occurred within the club football scene.

"Mickey is brilliant and his coaching team have been brilliant. They have done a great job. But they have been helped a lot by the work being done in the clubs, both at under-age and senior level."


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