Occlusion goggles helping Kildare focus on Dublin threat
Cian O’Neill’s side braced for crucial test against defending All-Ireland champions
Cian O’Neill: “We’ve invested a lot of time, energy and hard work into trying to get our game plan right.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
In one sense the timing was immaculate – Cian O’Neill’s demonstration of how occlusion goggles were helping the Kildare footballers prepare for the championship airing just two days after they scored 2-16 against Meath in the Leinster semi-final.
The Kildare manager, in the first episode of Dara Ó Cinnéide’s excellent series GAA Nua, suggested that the goggles – which block out some of the field of vision – can develop “visual awareness, spatial awareness, anticipation on the ball”, and possibly even help with kicking and passing too.
Those goggles may not have had any direct impact on their nine-point win over Meath, and O’Neill can well imagine some of the reaction had Kildare lost. In that case, the timing of the show couldn’t have been worse.
“To be honest, I think the show would have been better placed outside the GAA season,” says O’Neill. “I’d certainly have felt for anyone who was in the show and then loses at the weekend.
“I still have this thought in my head, I call it the ‘curse of the Thank GAA it’s Friday (another GAA TV show), where 90 per cent of people that appeared on that show lost the match that weekend. I don’t have the exact stats, and that’s not the fault of the show, but I just don’t think players need that, in championship. There’s enough pressure on them.
“There was access into training, into match days, which brilliant, because I think the public need to see that. And I thought the show was a great idea, because there is not a lot of education out there on the level of professionalism, and not just the science part, in an amateur game like ours. They got a lot of access into a lot of teams.”
For O’Neill, head of the department of sport at Cork IT, the science behind the game will always be somewhat theory-based, and the occlusion goggles were certainly no different.
“Listen, they’re an incredible tool for a very small part of our game, and a very small part of a lot of games. In Gaelic Games, the key rationale behind the goggles is that they help with reaction time, with anticipation.
“They have nothing to do with a kick or a hand pass or anything like that, but by default, and where they’re being used in our set-up, is when the ball is coming at speed, you can’t see the last three metres of the ball. So you’re trying to read the direction, the speed of the ball.
And they can also encourage players to keep their heads up. Do you need them to encourage to players to keep their head? No. But do they help? Absolutely. The science is there, and the research is there.
“But a little education is a dangerous thing, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that can happen. But no regrets. Outside of coaching, this is what I do in my day job. So the more we can coach and educate the better. I’d just prefer it was shown outside the season.”
What is certain is Kildare will need all that visual and spatial awareness and anticipation on the ball to cope with Dublin in Sunday’s Leinster final at Croke Park. Dublin have won every game in the province by a double-figure margin since 2013, and beaten Kildare by an aggregate score of 35 points in their last two meetings.
Dublin are also going for a record seventh successive Leinster title, whereas Kildare haven’t won since the turn of the last century.
“We’ve never met anything like the level that Dublin can perform to,” says O’Neill. “And to be fair we’ve never met a Division One team yet either. So that has to be factored in, but I think we’ve invested a lot of time, energy and hard work into trying to get our game-plan right, that suits the players we have, that is a different squad to what we had last year.
“Will we be more defensive-minded? Of course, we will. Will we need to put in 20 per cent or 30 per cent more intensity? Of course, we will. You’re playing the All-Ireland champions, two-time champions, but we’ll still play attacking football.
“The real challenge will be to get the balance right between the two. You certainly can’t leave any of your defenders or your defensive line exposed against a team like Dublin, so we’re going to work really hard on that, but we’re still going to play the type of football that has made some progress for us and for the county this year.”
Yet confidence in Kildare is certainly at its highest in years, and O’Neill also reckons the team had a sort of “Red Sea moment” after the Division Two final defeat to Galway.
“I think in every season, there is a Red Sea moment where it’s almost a light bulb moment, whereby players, management, backroom team all wake up to some type of realisation, whether it’s part of your game plan or attitude or what you need to do in training. And I think the team really tightened up after that.”
Still, after that 31-point drubbing of Westmeath, Dublin are an entirely different prospect.
“If anything, I think they’ve gone more defensive. I’m not sure who was there the last day, but at times they had 15 men behind the ball. I’ve never seen that before with Dublin. And when they got going they were absolutely phenomenal, their movement on the ball, off the ball, their work rate, intensity.”
Not forgetting their spatial awareness, etc.