So many elements go into creating a successful, winning environment in a GAA team. It takes days, weeks and months of dedication, not just from the players and management, but from a host of personnel behind the scenes in the dressing room.
From nutritionists to strength & conditioning coaches, every member of a backroom team has an important role to play in ensuring matters on-field run as smoothly as possible.
One such role is that of a high-performance analyst, a role that continues to grow in importance and usage in the GAA every single year. Within the set-up of the Kerry senior hurlers, that role is filled by Patricia Lynch, who switched her allegiances from the senior footballers at the end of last season.
Although relatively new to the area herself, she has seen a marked increase in the growth of performance analysis in the GAA in the past number of years.
“It really only started off in the GAA since the early 2000s, it started off with some teams just using pen and paper. It’s relatively new but it’s great to see the growth. Teams here are using the same software as elite and professional clubs across the world, let it be basketball, NFL, soccer, they are all using the same platforms. The GAA is right up there.
“Even more and more clubs are getting into performance analysis. Forward-thinking coaches are seeing the benefits of inter-county teams using this and it’s great to see it coming down to club and college level. It might not be as in-depth but a lot of clubs are using some form of video analysis.”
Lynch is a trained Sports Rehabilitator having studied Sports Rehabilitation and Athletic Therapy in Carlow IT. From there, she moved into the area of Sports Performance and undertook a Masters in the University of Limerick in 2016. It was then she got involved in third level GAA, giving Lynch her first insight into top-level performance analysis.
“I worked under DJ Collins, Brian Carson and Declan Brouder with UL’s O’Connor Cup and Sigerson teams, three great coaches who helped me along the way. The process is the exact same with college GAA as with inter-county but as I go along, I try to add in more.
“As colleges go, UL are well ahead of the game. They put huge emphasis on performance analysis which is incredible. And it’s equal for both the men’s and the women’s teams, I was with the two and there was no difference. Without UL and the GAA having an emphasis on performance analysis, I would never have gotten into it.”
In the space of three short years, Lynch went from dipping her toes in the area to walking out behind the Kerry senior footballers on All-Ireland Final day as their Head of Performance Analysis, something that was a dream come true for the lifelong Kerry supporter.
“In 2018, I was with the Kerry ladies and that was my first inter-county experience and that was a huge learning curve. It was great to experience a set up like that.
“It was incredible. Everyone in Kerry grows up looking at teams winning All-Irelands and going out in Croke Park. To walk out last year for a league final and two All-Ireland Finals behind lads who have been my heroes… it’s incredible. To be able to give back something to your county is a really nice feeling.
“Walking out into Croke Park is surreal. People always talk about that buzz, that rush that you get.. The noise, the colour, it’s hard to put into words.”
Her heroes were also working alongside her in the dressing room in the form of Kerry legend and selector Maurice Fitzgerald and coach Donie Buckley, who departed the set-up earlier this year. Not only was sitting between them a dream come true, but it was also a valuable learning experience.
“On match days, sitting between Maurice Fitz and Donie Buckley, what an incredible experience. Maurice was my absolute hero growing up as a child. I learned so much off them during games, just to get an insight into their thought process in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the game. I was there in awe of these two incredible minds. What Donie adds to a set-up is incredible, he sees things before they ever happen.”
Having worked in performance analysis in hurling at club level and with the Kerry U20s during their All-Ireland winning run in 2019, when the opportunity arose to take on a new challenge and work within Fintan O’Connor’s set-up, Lynch jumped at it. The faster pace of the game, she admits, “took a bit of getting used to”.
“There’s a lot more going on but it is still the main principles, you still have your key performance indicators or KPIs, turnovers, scores, frees, etc. The speed of the game took a bit of time but the most important thing for any analyst is that they know the basic rules of the game.”
It’s easy to get caught up in stats and figures when determining the success of a team. However, when you take away skill-levels and performance, off the pitch, the most important aspect of any functional set-up is the relationship between members of the backroom team and with the players.
Lynch is one small cog in what makes Kerry tick. She would never rely on stats alone to determine a player’s use to a team. By combining all the elements together, you come up with the best solution and that is something she is keen to emphasise.
“You have to have a good relationship with your coach and management team. You’re part of a multi-discipline team, performance analysis is only a small part, you have your strength & conditioning, nutrition, etc., they all have to work hand in hand. Every part is important in their own right so you have to have a good relationship.
“For a lot of years, players were afraid of video analysis, they saw us as the ones in the corner, marking everything they did wrong. It’s moved on now and you’re a valuable member of the team. Figures have to be taken in context because statistically, he might be very low during the game but he might have done a really good man-marking job on a player. Stats are not everything. It’s one part in the overall picture. ”
To read Patricia Lynch’s match week diary, click here.