Tadhg Kennelly says S&C focus is undermining skills in GAA

The AFL talent co-ordinator is in Dublin for weekend trials of 22 hopefuls at DCU

Tadhg Kennelly at the  recent International Rules Test in Croke Park. “Gaelic players are fitter and stronger and what do you do? You don’t give the ball back so you run with it.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Tadhg Kennelly at the recent International Rules Test in Croke Park. “Gaelic players are fitter and stronger and what do you do? You don’t give the ball back so you run with it.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Tadhg Kennelly says that core skills in Gaelic football have been undermined by rapidly increasing levels of physical fitness.

The only man to have won both an All-Ireland medal and an AFL Premiership is in Ireland as the AFL’s international talent co-ordinator to conduct Australian Rules trials this weekend at DCU. There 22 hopefuls from different sports and different countries in Europe will gather.

He believes the strength and conditioning culture necessary for professional rugby has contributed to an environment in which GAA teams are following suit and that the emphasis on strength and fitness is changing the way football is played.

“One, we don’t need the physicality that they’ve got in rugby in Gaelic football; it’s taking away from the true element of the game – that’s from a real, traditional Kerryman’s point of view of how it should be played!

“It doesn’t surprise me one bit the way Gaelic football has gone because of what’s happening with strength and conditioning and fitness coaching. Players are fitter and stronger and what do you do? You don’t give the ball back so you run with it. To run with it you need to be fitter and stronger so they can’t get the ball back off you.

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Kennelly is in agreement with the rising calls for the GAA to consider introducing a mark to reward high catches and he cites the example of the kick-out initiative, brought into International Rules last year, which requires the ball to travel 45 metres when being kicked out if the goalkeeper wants to engineer a mark.

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It has worked surprisingly well for Irish players who have competed very well in the air in each of the past two years.

“In Australia, the AFL are constantly changing the rules to prevent them being exploited because their job is the betterment of the game whereas it’s the coach’s job to win a premiership.

“I think the GAA’s starting to come around. The International Rules has shown that a small bit with the high fielding. That was a simple rule change. Ireland did well fielding and that’s what you want to see and I was part of the rules change when International Rules changed the kick-out because we want to see big marks and big catches.”

Although the numbers enrolled in provincial rugby academies is creating a bigger cohort of increasingly fit players than ever before, Kennelly says that GAA-based players have the more important advantage of the developing convergence between the Australian and Gaelic codes.

He doesn’t however expect the departure from Ireland to become an exodus.

“You’re going to continue to have a trickle of one or two every year – max. Clubs in the AFL have a salary cap on the football department. That means you can only spend a certain amount on your football but international players, like American basketballers, New Zealand rugby players and now Irish footballers are outside that salary cap so there’s an incentive to go to these markets and see if they can find the next Jimmy Stynes or whatnot.

“What we do is identify the talent and see if there’s interest in the talent we’ve got and every year there’s been one or two.”

Last month when in Ireland with the AFL for the International Rules Test, Kennelly supervised the attendance at training of two young footballers, Derry’s Conor Glass who has signed forms with triple premiership winners Hawthorn and Meath minor and Ireland under-18 rugby international Conor Nash, also on the Hawks’ radar and who will attend this weekend’s trial or ‘combine’ at DCU.

He sees a big future for former Kildare player Paddy Brophy, who he expects to make his Premiership debut with West Coast Eagles next year.

“The most important thing is the mindset, the attitude. The biggest test is mental.”

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