So much has changed in the GAA over the last ten years. But the biggest change hasn’t been the Sky deal. No, no. It’s the level of fitness.
A former offaly hurler by the name of johnny Pilkington famousely once said “We’re taking this match very seriously. We’re now training twice a week and some of the lads have been off the beer since Tuesday!” Oh how far the GAA have come since Johnny and the rest of the Offaly team were preparing for one of their all Ireland final appearances in the 90s.
The GAA has evolved at an amazing pace since the turn of the centaury, one only has to look at the deal that has been made by the GAA with Sky giving them the exclusive rights to show 14 assorted championship match’s this year to see just how far.
But in no other area has the GAA developed more than in fitness. Strength and conditioning coaches and sport nutritionists were unheard of in the GAA 10 years ago now every county has embraced the age of sport science.
Danny Lennon a nutrition coach, mentor and speaker believes that players have realised that their diet is a key factor to how physically fit they are:”The biggest change would probably be players realising they need to add more fat to the diet and the realisation that wheat is not a good quality food to be consuming.”
He believes that players have taken massive strides when it comes to nutrition and science in the last ten years “the very fact that guys are actually thinking about what they eat is a big change from say 10 years ago.”
Two years ago it could be said that the Laois hurlers were more behind in their conditioning and fitness than any other county. This was illustrated by Willie Hyland when he gave an interview to the Sunday independent about the dire state of Laois hurling.
He called for key appointments to be made at senior level. He felt that they were miles behind other counties in terms of fitness and physicality. “I’ve been marking (Stephen) Hiney for almost seven years and we’ve had good battles but I couldn’t believe the condition he was in a few weeks ago. It was like being hit by a bulldozer. Most of us train five or six nights a week but we’re light years behind.”
Fast-forward two years and the differences are remarkable. Laois lose by four points to all Ireland champions Clare in a league quarter final after playing 50 minutes with 14 men. A packed to the rafters O’ Moore park rises to its feet at the final whistle to applaud their hero’s for a gallant effort.
So how much could of changed in 2 years? It’s clear as daylight that Sheamus Plunkett taking charge has been the key factor. His enthusiasm for the game has breathed new life into this team. But his professionalism and modern approach to the game has also been the most important thing Laois were lacking under previous managers.
His passion for Laois hurling is second to none and the dedication and time he puts in is unbelievable. A brilliant example of this is how Plunkett donated his own money to the development of the gym that the Laois hurlers now train in on a weekly basis. The gym is also used by underage Laois teams and is symbolic to the time and effort Plunkett has given Laois hurling.
With him Plunkett has brought in his own backroom staff into the Laois set up, this includes Physical trainer Pat Flannagan, boxing coach Jimmy Payne, Ger Cunningham a highly rated coach, Brendan Cummins as a goalkeeper coach as well as a nutritionist, sports psychologist and video analysts.
Plunkett quickly introduced new training methods. In previous years according to current Laois hurler John Brophy there was “very little weight based training done in the gym” and it was “all very basic stuff.” Whereas now Brophy is very encouraged by what’s going on. Players were tested at the start of the year and given individual programs to work on their weaknesses. Their “progress is monitored and compared to other county teams” according to Brophy.
So the difference between now and two years ago is immeasurable. Plunkett has been instrumental to Laois’s transformation and as they look forward to the start of the championship the future looks bright for Laois hurling.
Tadgh O’Sullivan, Pundit Arena