‘How many performance analysts are here?”
It’s one of the first questions a tutor from Avenir Sports asks when invited to speak at the FAI Uefa B license course. The usual response sees one person raising their hand, quite often somebody who has coached at League of Ireland level.
“How many of you have used video with your team?”
A few more hands are raised.
“How many of you have sat at home, lying on the couch and watched a game this week? Or how many of you have sat on a high-stool watching a game and commented on it?”
At this point every hand in the room is raised.
“We’re all performance analysts,” the room is told. “It’s out there amongst everyone.”
"What we're trying to do is make sure people are not subjectively commentating," Tony Conneally, owner of Avenir Sports, explains to the Irish Times. "And we're not talking about the lads in the bar or anyone watching.
“We’re talking about when it is taken in the context of trying to improve tutors, coaches and players, so that they do have objectivity – or else you’re going nowhere.”
Since the turn of the millennium, performance analysis has rapidly become an integral element of how elite teams in Ireland function on a day-to-day basis. But this sector is no longer reserved for elite sport, having diffused into the worlds of amateur and local level sport, enabling teams of all shapes and sizes to benefit from an industry that has existed for over a century.
The whole idea of performance analysis may be a relatively new concept for those outside the realms of elite sport but it's by no means a new phenomenon, its genesis stemming from the middle of the 19th century. That being said, it has naturally evolved to a considerable extent since Henry Chadwick penned "Beadle's Dime Base Ball Player" in 1861, believed by many as the birth of what is now referred to as performance analysis.
Rob Carroll, a well-known figure in the field, provides a comprehensive timeline of this evolution on www.thevideoanalyst.com, assiduously delving into the use of stats in sports from the early days of baseball, the development of a notation system and all the way up to the formation of world-renowned companies that are the bedrock of the industry today.
The diffusion into the sporting penumbra beyond the circles of elite sport however is just the latest rung on this evolutionary ladder.
"Performance analysis has been in sport in Ireland for quite a number of years," explains Johnny Bradley, director of the MSc Sports Performance Analysis programme at IT Carlow.
“I suppose you can do the notional analysis, which is pen-and-paper, recording the key events in a performance just to recall that back to the coach after or during a game – that has probably always been there.
“With the advancement of technology there’s the capacity to use video to feed into a computer programme. That came in around 2002 and it was expensive enough that time. I suppose if you are to look back at technology it was very expensive to begin with and it reduces in price as the decades go on.
“With that and the price reduction for video cameras and software, clubs are finding it a little easier to invest in those technologies.
“In fairness to elite teams they use a lot of technology because there’s a lot of value in it. The clubs are now putting a value on it in a way to understand their performances or to understand their sport a lot better.”
So the anachronistic paralysis-by-analysis mantra is clearly no longer one espoused as widely. The volume of amateur outfits making use of the same techniques and resources as elite sides has become abundantly obvious and can be witnessed during games at any number of local venues around the country every weekend.
“It’s right across the board and even in individual sports as well. Where I work in IT Carlow even our sports teams would have access to video. Our students would go and video performances and come back and break the game down using software.
“Each intercounty GAA team would have a team of analysts that are there at every game, recording key performance indicators. They would have multiple video angles so they can recall information post-game that they can use on their first training session back.
“However with club teams you may just have one guy there. But they’re still using the same techniques. They wouldn’t have as many angles and they wouldn’t have as good as quality of video. But that’s not to say the information isn’t being used and having the same impact for them.
“There is a gap but it’s a resource issue – like a club having one physio while a county may have three. And it doesn’t have to be very complicated. I think that’s part of the realisation for clubs. You don’t need a massive amount of money; you don’t need a massive amount of expertise in terms of the software that’s available.
“There’s a perception out there, sometimes, that it’s very, very complicated. But it’s actually not.”
This is a view shared by Conneally and after noticing an opening in the market that could be exploited a few years ago, his company now offers auxiliary services as well as distributing software such as Hudl and SportsCode.
The basic software package comes in around €430 while specific auxiliary services such as videoing a game and providing subsequent detailed analysis can come in at around €250 a match.
“Certain sports would prefer that they got all their analysis done. So if they wished we would video the games and we do that quite a bit because the whole process of analysis starts with the correct raw footage.
“We then break it down and put it up on Hudl. That has really taken off, insofar as we’re setting up Performance Solution Centres.
“We have one here in Galway where we work with a lot of local clubs; we have one down in the Kerry GAA Centre of Excellence and we would have worked with quite a number of teams down there as in Stacks, Beaufort, Dingle, Kenmare.
“We would have a good number of clubs in Dublin but we’re right in the process now of establishing an office up there as well – another Performance Solutions Centre.
“We try to really simplify what we’re doing here because performance analysis can be really complicated. Effectively we’re trying to get raw footage, capture, code, analyse, get it to a stage where we can present to a group of players or a group of coaches and then have the ability to distribute it though Hudl. What we’re doing is transferring the transfer of meaning.”
The affordable prices along with the wide range of sports that can benefit from such facilities means the target market is continuously growing. The Hudl and SportsCode products alone are used by the IRFU, FAI, Hockey Ireland and a tranche of intercounty GAA set-ups, All-Ireland champions such as Dublin and Tipperary as well as plenty of other runners in the field.
"When you look at Joe Schmidt during a match with all the laptops around him, they're using SportsCode," continues Conneally. "They're breaking down the match second by second.
“And hurling: it’s the biggest for what we call live-review, we would contend, worldwide. Some of the hurling counties would have a graphic in front of them with six pitches changing colours. For a puck-out, depending on whether they were winning in a certain zone of the pitch, that area of the pitch would be turned red, green or amber.
“They’re not taking a player off because of a stat; they’re actually looking at the quantitative and qualitative analysis and they’re looking at the reasons why.
“As simple as you can – that’s our MO.”
As it happens, that’s exactly how small, amateur outfits like it and as a result they’re eating the information up. On goes the evolution.
Travel to the European Athletics Championships in Paris
There aren't many sporting bucket lists without a sojourn to the Far East next summer. But getting to Tokyo for the Olympics could prove both a costly and complex undertaking, too extravagant perhaps for those who haven't already spent months, if not years, feeding the piggy bank.
Fans of athletics however are presented with an alternative that offers an opportunity to taste world class athletics, without having to traverse the length of two continents to do so.
The European Championships arrive in Paris next year (August 25th-30th), just over a fortnight on from the closing ceremony in Tokyo and with the world possibly still reeling from the mania attached to the quadrennial event, Paris represents a more realistic target for those keen to get caught up in the waves of enthusiasm an Olympic year brings, not to mention those of us who are simply hooked by Track and Field whatever the season.
The City of Lights, and more specifically the Stade Charléty, can provide the ideal postlude to what is sure to be a summer of beer and skittles in the world of athletics.
Unlike the hike in the price of flights that seems to accompany most major sporting events, the European Championships has remained somewhat immune from such trends. That being said there are still bargains to be availed of.
The cheapest return flight from Ireland to the French capital that week is with Ryanair. Flying from Dublin to Paris-Beauvais on Wednesday morning before returning the following morning costs €66.00.
Should you decide to fly closer to the weekend the prices remain relatively similar, with the same journey two days later (leaving on Friday and returning on Saturday) costing €72.00.
Aer Lingus and Air France also offer flights to the city.
Getting to the city
Unfortunately Paris-Beauvais Airport is located over 80km from the city centre, though there are facilities to counteract the inconvenience. A shuttle bus service is available from the airport to take passengers as far as the Porte Maillot station on the outskirts of the city. A return journey costs €29.00, if booked in advance. Tickets can be purchased online at www.shop.aeroportparisbeauvais.com.
The ticket is valid for 12 months from the time of purchase.
Getting to the stadium
This is the tricky part of the journey – yet it's also the cheapest. The Paris Metro/RER system is a straightforward one, whereby the length of your journey is irrelevant to the price of a fare once you remain within Zone One. In this case you do. Every fare simply costs €1.90 one-way.
Getting to Cité Universitaire from Porte Maillot requires passengers to change from the Yellow Line to the Blue Line. This can be accomplished at either Chatalet Station or at St-Michel Notre-Dame Station – both are near the city centre. The journey should take approximately 40 minutes.
Once you arrive at Cité Universataire, the stadium is a short 5-10 minute walk from the station.
A Category 3 day ticket, which includes both morning and afternoon sessions, costs €51.00 – though if travelling on the morning of the event making the morning session in time could prove a little too ambitious. However, the evening session often offers the best entertainment with the morning usually reserved for qualification. The Wednesday afternoon session will see the finals of the men's 100m and 10,000m events, along with the women's shot put and 100m hurdles. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ticket.athle2020.paris.
For one person flying (return) to Paris-Beauvais from Dublin on Wednesday, August 26, returning on Thursday, August 27, with shuttle bus to Porte Maillot and subsequent Metro/RER fare, along with a day ticket to the event: €150
AIT Indoor International Grand Prix
For an event that began as recently as 2014, the Grand Prix has already made its mark, attracting World and Olympic champions such as Ashton Eaton, Sally Pearson and Sam Kendricks among others to the Midlands. The very best of Irish talent are also always guaranteed to make an appearance, with the event proving to be an ideal launchpad during an Olympic year.
When: February 12th
Where: AIT, Athlone
National Indoor Senior Championships
This event gives the public an ideal opportunity to witness a cracking atmosphere within the state-of-the-art National Indoor Arena which only opened in 2017. And with Ireland's top athletes hoping to start 2019 with a bang, the event provides a platform that can garner some momentum heading deeper into the year. Expect all the big names – with the possibility of a few young prospects emerging from the shadows, eager to cause some upsets.
When: February 29th–March 1st
Where: National Indoor Arena, Abbotstown
AAI National 10k Championships
For many of us the majority of highlights in the Irish calendar remain out of reach. But with the Great Ireland Run taking place in conjunction with the National 10k Championships, common folk can rub shoulders with the best Irish athletes around the idyllic surroundings of Phoenix Park. A fine example of competitiveness mixed with pleasure.
When: April 5th
Where: Phoenix Park, Dublin
Tailteann Interprovincial Games
No event in the calendar can stir up the range of emotions this historical event always brings out. Schools' talent from all around the country will descend on Morton Stadium to represent their province in the competition that has roots going back centuries. For many teenagers it's one of the earliest parts in a journey that could encompass a phenomenal career. So it has been for many.
When: June 20th
Where: Morton Stadium, Santry
National Track and Field Senior Championships
With Tokyo creeping up everything is on the line for the biggest fixture in the sport. The television camera arrive, the crowds swell and the pressure mounts. All the biggest names will be there and, of course, they only have a temporary lease on their crowns. Will this be the year of an upset? Or will this be the year of another spellbinding performance?
When: June 27th-28th
Where: Morton Stadium, Santry