More training doesn’t mean better

Críonna Tobin’s fascinating research proves old ‘laps of the field’ approach limited

Training time for the Limerick hurlers at the Gaelic Grounds. Críonna Tobin’s fascinarting presentation to the  GAA’s Games Development Conference at Croke Park appeared to prove that high intensity training produces better core fitness results than the more traditional endurance running. Photograph:  James Crombie/Inpho

Training time for the Limerick hurlers at the Gaelic Grounds. Críonna Tobin’s fascinarting presentation to the GAA’s Games Development Conference at Croke Park appeared to prove that high intensity training produces better core fitness results than the more traditional endurance running. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho


“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” is a quote often associated with Roy Keane but ( like Father Ted only “borrowing” the parish money and having it resting in his account ) Roy only “borrowed” the quote from Benjamin Franklin, writer, philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America in the 18th century.

We all understand the point being made and as this is a sports column we’ll apply it to our chosen sport which, of course, is hurling.

The present day intercounty hurler is almost a full-time athlete. Unfortunately, he also has to attend college or work, or possibly both. His lifestyle choice of being an intercounty hurler makes considerable demands on his time.

The hurlers of the past generations were heroes and warriors. They also became artists of the ash by devoting many, many hours to being the best.

Today, however, science plays a huge part in the hurler’s preparation. The day of the coach or trainer doing all the on-field work with his players is well and truly gone.

The trainer who does the physical training with the team, aka the strength and conditioning coach, is always a highly-qualified person who probably has a master’s degree.


He is bringing the fruits of the most up to date research on to the training field. S & C coaches like Mark Lyons with the the Limerick hurlers; Cian O’Neill, Kerry footballers; and Mick Dempsey, Kilkenny hurlers, amongst many others are all lecturers at third level.

The modern hurler is devoting his life to the game. He is following a very specific eating plan. He is in the gym a few times a week. He is rarely out socialising. He is possibly being guided in the workings of the mind. He is very aware of the benefits of a proper stretching routine. He is also very aware of the reasons to be properly hydrated all the time.

When I started out hurling on the school field in Aghabullogue it was all about hurley, sliotar (if I was lucky enough to have one ) school gable wall and matches during all the school lunch breaks.

Then it was on to training with the local under-14s and matches and games of backs and forwards at training. Not a drill in sight. That was the order of the day.

We had devoted team mentors in the likes of Gussie and Murty Murphy and they gave us their time and expertise and we were glad thankful for that.

Yesteryear’s training is a far off remove from today’s demanding regime.

But whatever team you were part of for many years after, the “rounds of the field” were a given. Most sessions began and ended with rounds of the field.

The number depended on the time of the year or possibly how severe the trainer wanted to make the session. Back then more always equalled better.

Last January I attended the GAA’s Games Development Conference in Croke Park. This began on Friday night and went on until Saturday evening with top class presentations from many people involved with GAA sports.

The Friday evening presentations were particularly interesting because they were presented, in the main, by third level graduates involved in the area of sports research, most of it GAA specific.


Each presenter was only allowed five minutes and five powerpoint slides. The presentation that appealed most to me (as a former dodger of long distance runs and rounds of the field ) was Críonna Tobin’s (DCU PhD graduate and daughter of former Galway footballer John Tobin ). She revealed her findings on endurance training versus high intensity interval training.

Her research question was “Will Six Sessions of High Intensity Interval Training( H IIT) Increase Endurance Performance to the Same Extent as Six Sessions of Endurance Running in Trained Gaelic Footballers ?”

Basically her test took six weeks to complete. She began by testing the fitness of her players. She then divided them into two groups.

The HIIT group did a five-minute warm-up and then did three forward and back 110 metre full-speed runs with a 20-second recovery time between each run. This was repeated three times with five minutes passive rest between each set. The total time involved was 17 minutes but only four minutes running time.

The ET group ran for 50 minutes at fairly high pace (at 75 per cent VO2 max, for those who understand that) at each session.

So that means one group ran for a total of 24 minutes over the six sessions while the other did 300.

After the six weeks the players were retested and while both groups’ endurance had improved, the HIIT’s group results were better than the ET group by 13 per cent.

So while the rounds of the field days are well gone this research might free up some very important time for our very busy elite sportspersons.

Excellent presentation

Check out for a YouTube of Críonna’s excellent presentation.

While all of the above relates to pre-season, the hurling penalty issue has been the subject of much controversy. I’m glad there has been a bit of a resolution. However, this temporary fix is not satisfactory. The pendulum has fallen very much in the defenders’ favour for a free that should be to the advantage of the striker.

Only one player on the goal line would even up the odds a bit. The debate is far from over, though.

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