John Allen: Warming up to players’ pre-match preparations

Time for powers that be and fans to take the warm-up as serious as teams

Kilkenny hurlers go through their warm-up routine ahead of an important championship match. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.

Kilkenny hurlers go through their warm-up routine ahead of an important championship match. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.

 

The pre-match warm-up routine has become a integral part of the match day preparation. Gone are the days of the five minute in the dressingroom jogging on the spot, touching the toes, stretching the groin, and finishing with the customary set of sprints on the spot while the trainer ranted and hopped the hurley off the nearest seat too emphasise the importance of the next hour and a bit. The wintergreen wafted out of the dressingroom as the door burst open and the hurlers charged out onto the field ready to die for the cause.

Then there were the customary few pucks before the ball was in and the game was on. Often a player was lucky to get a few touches before he was expected to perform wonders with the sliotar from a standing start.

Then, in the early noughties, all that changed. More and more teams employed a qualified physical trainer and he brought science to the training ground which of course included the knowledge that a warm-up was not an option but a necessity.

Those who had gone across the water to the odd soccer game had witnessed warm-up routines which were sometimes better than the game itself. Yes, it was time for the GAA teams to go with this best practice model. The research and subsequent knowledge in the whole area of physiology is constantly advancing and the warm-ups have gone through many adaptations over the past decade.

Culture change

So there we had it, the warm-up would take place in full view of the public on the field of play with players bounding around like kangaroos and crawling around like alligators exiting from the water onto the riverbank.

As far as I remember (although I am open to correction) the Cork hurlers, under the expert guidance of the fitness guru Seánie McGrath, were the first team to warm-up in full public view in early 2003. I well remember the affable Cork medic Dr Con Murphy and the equally genial long-time selector Fred Sheehy advising that we would be a laughing stock.

A total warm-up program starts with low-intensity drills with the hurleys and sliotar. This provides the hurling specific general warm-up that helps the skill development and raises body temperature. Then it progresses to dynamic stretching focusing on movements that work through the range of motion required for this physical game. This is followed by sport-specific movements of increasing intensity such as sprint drills, bounding activities or jumping. The more power necessary for the sport or activity, the more important the warm-up becomes. This phase also, obviously, includes rehearsal of the skills to be performed in the game.

It progresses gradually as the throw-in approaches. The overall aim of course is to have the players physically optimised to perform the minute the sliotar is thrown in. All a bit high brow maybe but that’s where it’s at in 2015.

Most teams have the warm-up timed to the second depending on the match-day schedule. This is necessary, particularly on the “big days”, when the time allowed on the pitch is not always sufficient.

The powers that be are sometimes guilty of not factoring enough time in on many timetables.

The cool down is of equal importance in helping player recovery and has also become an integral part of the post-match routine. There is no end to the amount of highly scientific information available about the benefits of the warm up and cool down.

The old school, though, are quick to remind us that they didn’t have warm-ups and didn’t know anything of hamstrings or groin strains, not to mention cruciate ligaments.

I know plenty of players who don’t really fancy the length of the warm-up but accept the science and the reasons behind it.

Italian soccer great Andrea Pirlo (like Fijians or Fermanagh natives, not noted for his hurling prowess) has a particular aversion to the pre-match ritual. He didn’t hold back in his biography I Think Therefore I Play. He wrote: “I hate it [the warm-up] with every fibre of my being. It’s the worst part of my working week, a 15 minute pain in the arse. Quarter of an hour completely wasted. Most of the time I’ll be thinking of something else as I go through the motions”.

Preparation for battle

Last Saturday in Thurles the warm-ups started almost anonymously. The teams in both games came onto the field without any introduction or fanfare. An oversight maybe but one that needs rectifying. The players and managements dedicate a huge part of their lives to being ready for the action on match day. A little help with the creation of atmosphere for these elite athletes isn’t too much to ask as they get into the warm-up zone and prepare for the battle ahead.

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