On what will be a unique day for football as a club from the geographical county of Roscommon will be Connacht champions. This will be the first time that St Brigid’s from Roscommon and Ballaghaderreen from Mayo/Roscommon will contest a provincial final. This unique pairing has presented an opportunity for some people to debate the age old argument of whether the Mayo boys should in fact be playing in Roscommon. As we all know, the town is administered by Roscommon County Council and for all intents and purposes is a Roscommon town, but it has declared its football allegiance to Mayo for the past 124 years. Whatever your views are on the issue, all of Mayo will be staunchly supporting the Ballagh boys in McHale Park on Sunday. I am not so sure they have the armoury to beat the Roscommon champions who, incidentally, are managed and coached by Kevin McStay and Liam McHale. I was in the Hodson Bay hotel during the week (Brigid’s territory ) and many I spoke to are confident that not alone will Brigid’s win a Connacht title, but they feel they are good enough to win an All-Ireland this year. I’m not so sure but Sunday will give us a fair indication of their true worth. Ballaghaderreen, on the other hand, have been quite patchy in their recent performances. In their semi-final victory over Curry they were fortunate to be behind by just two points at half time. Had it been Brigid’s they were playing on that occasion Ballagh would have been out of sight by then. It could have been seven or eight. They did not get motoring until after half time and in fairness they were brilliant when they eventually did, playing arguably their finest football of the year in that second half. But if they are to stand any chance of winning on Sunday they will definitely need to perform for the entire 60 minutes.
O’Connor return a big boost for Ballintubber in u21 final
On Saturday we have the replay of the u21 final between Castlebar and Ballintubber. This game ended in a welter of excitement two weeks ago when Castlebar required a last minute point from a free to force a replay after extra time. I see that Cillian O’ Connor played with the All-Stars last weekend in New York which would indicate that he will be fit to play the entire game tomorrow, and he in particular could edge this one in their favour. It is a shame this match had to be removed from McHale Park, although understandable in the circumstances (Connacht final on Sunday ), as the drawn game played under lights on a Friday night was hugely attractive not alone for supporters of both teams but for many neutrals too.
At last some common sense on match day rules
Finally, I believe there is a more focused view being taken to match day breaches by a sub-committee appointed by Croke Park. Currently, there is very much an ad-hoc approach to breaches of regulations. I have heard of counties like Leitrim being fined €400 for substitutes having a puck around at half time in a division four match in Carrick on Shannon with 20 spectators watching from the stands. The Leitrims and the Carlows of this world are a soft target for easy money for these types of indiscretions. And yet the big teams playing in front of 80,000 in Croke Park can more or less do what they like without any fines being imposed. I can recall one particular manager and all team substitutes standing for Amhrán Na Bhfiann in the middle of Croke Park this summer in contravention of match day regulations and no fine was imposed. What is needed is a level playing field and from what I hear there is going to be a stamp down on a number of fronts. Here are some of the proposals being considered.
Regulations to be divided into two classes: (A ) team/management regulations, (B ) county committee regulations. Which will include monetary penalties being replaced by a point system. Once a cumulative number of points is reached a penalty to be imposed on the manager. Managers and one ‘runner’ will be allowed on the sideline operating from a marked off zone similar to soccer managers.
Selectors to be removed from the sideline Only one medical officer allowed on the sideline (we have some teams in this year’s championship with four ‘medics’ on the line ). I believe officers of the County Board might have to suffer the indignity of having to sit with the subs too.
Testing times ahead
In the next few weeks managers of teams will gather their troops to undergo a battery of fitness tests anxious to ensure that players do not ‘blow up’ over the Christmas period. We are all aware of the basic bleep tests favoured by many coaches but other testing can end up costing a small fortune as a result of hiring in ‘experts’ with all sorts of expensive gadgetry to carry out these tests.
I saw recently that Ulster GAA held an elite fitness testing seminar with a selection of inter-county coaches to discuss this very topic. The Ulster province appears to be ahead of the posse when it comes to dealing with relevant issues affecting their teams. They discussed the use of fitness testing for their inter-county teams, specifically, how they can use fitness testing more effectively to improve potential for performance.
During the session the group discussed the use of fitness testing in professional sports teams, including testimonials from professionals working in soccer, Australian Rules football, Rugby Union, and NBA Basketball teams. They investigated issues specific to testing in Gaelic games, the selection of tests and the need for a ‘joined up’ approach throughout the province.
Everyone agrees that fitness testing is considered a vital aspect of any strength and conditioning programme undertaken within the professional sports team setting. However what is clear from the responses they received is that the term ‘fitness testing’ appears to have been replaced by a range of other terms along the theme of ‘progression monitoring’. What is even more striking is that those working with professional sports teams now view on-going assessment as a vital tool to monitor the effectiveness of their coaching practices and to guide the subsequent training regimen. By contrast, within Gaelic games, the status quo of fitness testing appears to be as resolute as ever. Testing sessions are carried out to satisfy the ‘tick box’ method of coaching but the results are generally overlooked in order to continue along the already outlined training schedule.
Through the elite performance seminar it became evident that the impact of fitness testing is limited by a range of aspects as outlined above. The overwhelming feeling was that coaches are generally aware of the benefits of effective assessment, but many felt limited by a lack of confidence with regard to analysing and interpreting results and applying the findings to training. The solution to this problem may lie in the simplification and standardisation of the testing process. While making player assessment straightforward and easy to carry out, this development could also allow for greater ease of results analysis. With coaches using the same tests consistently they should gain in confidence and proficiency in interpreting results. It could also provide an unprecedented resource in terms of normative data against which coaches could measure their squad.