IN ALL FAIRNESS - S&C needs to become a culture

A six-day period last week was bleak for Gaelic games in Tipperary with five inter-county teams losing in championship action.

Some of the losses were expected as they were playing better opponents, but others threw up issues that have been bubbling under the surface for some time and ones which need to be addressed going forward.

In the middle of the 2000’s, the development squads Tipperary set up in both hurling and football became the envy of many other counties and it led to minor All-Ireland’s in both codes, as well as under 20/21 All-Ireland’s in hurling with the under 21 footballers coming close also in 2015. However, things look to have slipped since then, despite a minor All-Ireland in 2016 and 20/21 All-Ireland’s in 2018 and 2019.

Now, All-Ireland titles shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all when it comes to judging whether players are good enough to go on and make an impact at senior level. Look at the 2018 Cork Under 21 team defeated by Tipp in the All-Ireland final, a team that contained Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Jack O’Connor, Niall O’Leary, Robbie O’Flynn and many others who are back-boning the revival of the Cork senior team at present.

There is a concern that just Jake Morris has managed to break into the Tipperary senior team so far, but Cork had greater need to flood their senior team with young players as they were better than what they had, whereas Tipp didn’t need to bring theirs through as quickly with a strong senior team already there. However, the time is quickly approaching where change is needed, and it certainly appears as if Cork have stolen a march.

While you can’t judge Cork’s under 21 team of 2018 completely on the All-Ireland final loss, as they had beaten Tipp handsomely a few weeks earlier in the Munster final, the same goes for this years Tipp under 20’s following their defeat to Cork last week. If the sides played each other ten times, both teams could easily win five and lose five, and last Tuesday proved to be Cork’s day on that occasion.

As much as the second half collapse was disappointing, Tipp did a lot right, particularly in the first half when they were easily the better side, but as can happen with young players when the game goes against them, they can struggle to turn it around as they don’t have the mentality to cope. This is one of the aspects I raised following that defeat, as to whether this aspect is covered in the development squad process; the mental side of the game to cope with adversity is as important as the fitness and skills side is.

There is an arms race going with regard to Strength & Conditioning. All counties are looking at each other to see what the other is doing as regards their philosophies. Certainly, Limerick, in both hurling and football, have gotten things right, even going as far as identifying six foot-plus guys who might not be the best player initially, but putting work into them might make them an effective player the older they get.

However, that also takes years of planning and recording data, not just when the inter-county season is on, but also when it is over and that is where Tipperary seem to be slipping. We do have access to the Sportslab at LIT Thurles who provide a winter programme of strength & conditioning for all development squad, however, the question has to be asked; are the players monitored during the off-season to ensure they are still making the gains?

Last week saw the Tipp under 20 hurlers & footballers and minor footballers’ seasons come to an end, but for those players who have dreams of donning a Tipperary jersey in to the future, the monitoring of their strength & conditioning shouldn’t just end there. They may well have club games to play still but that doesn’t mean they can’t still make the partial gains at home.

While many will argue the focus should be on the County Board to ensure they do this, they certainly have a play to part, but at the end of the day, it is up to the individual player to ensure they are in the best shape possible, when they get the ball to go to Dr Morris Park, rather than arriving there and expected to be shown the way then.

Any young player with dreams of playing inter-county hurling or football with Tipperary could do with reading up on the late Brendan ‘Ogie’ Duffy, the Monaghan under 20 football captain who was tragically killed in a car crash earlier this month. His drive to be the best player he could be, in terms of his diet and setting up his own home gym, was incredible and there is no doubt but for fate intervening that he would have been a mainstay of the Monaghan senior team for many years.

As Tipp U20 Football manager Paddy Christie stated last week, strength & conditioning needs to become a culture, where going to the gym (in a controlled and planned manner), needs to be a part of a players’ weekly routine, in and out of the playing season. Are enough of our younger players doing this?