Dunne's role about helping players to help themselves
Former boxer’s role not defined but is essentially that of sports psychologist
Behind the suitably punchy headlines that marked Bernard Dunne’s appointment as performance and lifestyle coach with the Dublin senior footballers lies an interesting question for the GAA: what exactly does performance and lifestyle coaching entail?
Dunne politely declined to expand on his new role when contacted yesterday, only to say it was something “worked out between himself and the Dublin management” – and that in itself suggests the role is an evolving one.
It is not, however, an entirely new departure for the former world boxing champion, nor indeed for new Dublin manager Jim Gavin; Dunne played a similar role with Gavin during his term as Dublin under-21 manager. Gavin delivered two All-Ireland titles in the last three years.
“He’s there to help players maximise their sporting performance and help them get their lifestyle aligned so as to give them the capability to perform,” Gavin explained, after his debut as Dublin manager, in the annual Blue Stars Challenge, on New Year’s Day.
“Obviously, Bernard is someone who has achieved at the very highest level of world sport and hopefully that will be of some benefit.”
It is, presumably, coincidental that the Dublin senior hurlers also have a former boxing champion as part of their backroom team, with Olympic gold medallist Michael Carruth acting as team masseur and sometime mentor.
There is actually very little new about either role, and if it all sounds like a looser, less formal form of sports psychology that’s probably because it is, according to Brendan Hackett, who has a long history of performance and lifestyle coaching, both inside and outside of the GAA.
Hackett qualified as a sports psychologist back in 1993, having previously managed Longford and Offaly, and since then has worked in the backrooms of eight different counties, including Roscommon (2001 Connacht champions), Sligo (2002), Fermanagh (who reached the All-Ireland quarter-final in 2003), Limerick (Munster finalists in 2004), Galway (Connacht champions 2005) and Monaghan (2006 All-Ireland quarter-finalists).
“I’ve always said that sports psychology is maybe 50 per cent common sense, the other 50 per cent being the actual expertise in dealing with or identifying specific problems, or individual needs,” he says.
“So I think someone like Bernard Dunne can have a very important role to play, especially for the younger players, where his experience can be very beneficial, to enhance performance.
“It’s about using his own experience to make common sense the common practice, which is really what so much of sports psychology is about.”
More recently Hackett spent half of an ill-fated season as Westmeath manager, in 2010, and perhaps not coincidentally, appointed Carruth as his team masseur, also recognising the psychological advantages of having an Olympic gold medallists in his dressingroom.
He also took on Martin Kennedy as team trainer. Kennedy has also now joined up with Gavin, having worked with the Dublin hurlers.
An example, perhaps, of being ahead of his time, but Hackett agrees the role of sports psychology, in whatever form, is constantly evolving: “When I started out with teams, I was often asked to pretend I was a physio, or trainer, or sometimes even asked to hide in a dressingroom, in case anyone recognised me.
“Having a sports psychologist wasn’t necessarily seen as a positive thing. Now that has completely changed, and it’s very much accepted, the same way as strength and conditioning, or say sports nutrition.”
Westmeath have just made a similar appointment in bringing in double Paralympics gold medallist Mark Rohan, again in a not entirely defined role, other than some performance and lifestyle coaching.
But according to a member of Coaching Ireland, formerly the NCTC in Limerick, there needs to be some element of caution when bringing “outside” sporting mentors into the GAA: “The balance has to be rooted in the game itself,” he said, declining to be named given his own role with intercounty teams. “Because really the best people to deliver in these situations are the managers themselves.”