GAA Football

Top GAA players are over-trained says fitness coach Mike McGurn

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

Top strength and conditioning coach Mike McGurn says inter-county players are over-trained and that much of their physical preparation is unsuited to the requirements of Gaelic games.

McGurn has coached at the highest level in a range of sports, working with the Ireland and New Zealand rugby teams and in the Premier League with Everton, as well as a spell with professional boxer Bernard Dunne, helping him win a world Super Bantamweight title.

The Fermanagh native's GAA experience is extensive as well. He has trained championship-winning teams in four counties – Derry (Ballinderry), Down (Kilcoo), Armagh (Crossmaglen) and Antrim (Lamh Dhearg).

But he says his involvement with the Armagh footballers will be his last at inter-county level.

McGurn believes most county teams are taking the wrong approach, often to the long-term detriment of players.

"I would not go back into county GAA for love nor money, because I don't want to be a hypocrite.

"In my eyes they're doing too much training, and a lot of it is unnecessary.

"The mentality is – if you do five days, that's good, but if you do six, it's better – but it's not.

"I worked with the All Blacks in 2008, and a lot of senior county football teams are doing more training than the All Blacks. That's not an exaggeration, that's the reality.

"A lot of county teams are doing training that has no relevance to Gaelic football whatsoever.

"One of the fundamentals that we look at – kick, catch, put the ball over the bar, and tackle.

"It doesn't take much more than that, but yet they're doing things that have no relevance to that. But it ticks the boxes, and I don't agree with it."

The club scene is where he feels the correct balance can be found, and it's what drew him back to Gaelic football and a new role with Tyrone club Clonoe O'Rahilly's this season.

"When I went to Lamh Dhearg three years ago it was like a breath of fresh air.

"It was good craic and I wanted to be there and I wanted to do it. My children are at the club.

"It was pure, everyone was honest, and I really loved it, so I said to myself, if I ever go back into the GAA, it will be with a club.

"I don't want to go back into county football, because I wouldn't enjoy it."

McGurn, who this week dips his toes into Tyrone football for the first time, along with former Armagh star and Clonoe manager Steven McDonnell, warned that top level players are being placed at risk by their training regimes.

"Somewhere down the line in their careers, there might be an injury which somebody has to be accountable for, and who's going to say, well that was my fault? Nobody.

"Some of the counties are brilliant. Peter Donnelly in Tyrone has done a fantastic job, because he realises it's about the football.

"It's not about what you can lift in the gym or what you can run on the track.

"It's what you do on a Sunday on the pitch, so a lot of his stuff is game-related, it's conditioning-related stuff.

"It's making them better footballers without damaging them physically, which I think is happening in gaelic football."

Young players in inter-county development squads are also being over-worked, according to McGurn, who sees evidence of the effects through his role as Head of Strength and Conditioning at Queen's University.

"In Queen's, I am getting these eighteen, nineteen-year-olds coming in and they have been in Academy squads, development squads.

"The guys can't move correctly, because of what they're doing in the gym, they can't sit in a chair correctly, because they're so tight in their back and their hips.

"Somewhere along the line, somebody is making big mistakes with these kids.

"I have three kids and I wouldn't want my kids being exposed to that.

"The GAA have a duty of care to protect their players, and they do not know what's happening in all these clubs, they have no cognisance of what is happening to under-age players in a conditioning perspective.

"If we turn to a suing culture, like the Americans, the GAA is going to have law suits on its hands left, right and centre."

McGurn also warned that the current pathway towards a return to inter-county competition is placing players at risk of injury in the short-term.

Training resumes next Monday, with a four-week lead-in to the opening National League tie.

"That's very short, it's far too short for the lay-off they have had.

"If a team turns up in May and they're flying, have they done a Dublin and been training on the QT? They possibly have.

"The GAA should not expect amateur players, on four weeks preparation, to play an inter-county football game. They're not physiologically prepared. It's impossible in four weeks, if everybody is following the rules.

"Last June, July, when the players started to come back, there was a pandemic of injuries.

"There was a huge amount of groin, hamstring and calf injuries, which are all avoidable, because they are soft tissue injuries.

"Contact injuries we can't control, they happen. You twist an ankle, it happens.

"But when you pull or tear your calf, you pull your groin or your hamstring, it's a soft tissue injury and it's down to bad management of training."

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