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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Speed just the ticket for Gavin

nicky devereux
nicky devereux

THEY are widely acclaimed as the best Gaelic football team on the planet. But is one of the key factors not merely their ball skills, or mentality, or bench ... but their sheer athleticism?

Here's a selection of the commentary that followed Dublin's latest Leinster SFC tour de force, blitzing Wexford in Sunday's second half.

Pat Spillane, waxing lyrical on The Sunday Game Live: "It's relentless. It's from minute one until minute 72 or 73. I was talking to the Laois players last week, down in Portlaoise, and they were saying: 'Just when you're hanging in ... the cavalry arrive and there's more subs and they're running faster and they're going harder.'"

Joe Brolly, on the same programme: "I've heard them described as a second half team, but it's not so much that, it's that they go at the same speed for 70 minutes. So by the 45-50 minute (mark) teams are no longer able to stay with them."

Wexford manager Aidan O'Brien, speaking after his side's 16-point defeat: "I would make the analogy of a group of athletes, lining up for the Olympic final of the 5,000 metres. They're all in pristine, peak fitness. And yet some of them will be overlapped by others. Because there is fitness, but there is also innate athleticism. And I think that's what Dublin currently have, a phenomenal athleticism, right around the field."

Now, as a further experiment, try listing Jim Gavin's myriad speed merchants. In no particular order: Jack McCaffrey, Jonny Cooper, Nicky Devereux (a 10.8 seconds 100m man, reputedly), James McCarthy, Cian O'Sullivan, Paul Mannion, Cormac Costello.

We haven't even mentioned Eoghan O'Gara, or the human dynamo that is Michael Darragh Macauley, or the archetypal wing-forward machine that is Paul Flynn, or the gliding Diarmuid Connolly, or Kevin 'Pocket Rocket' McManamon, or a brace of Brogans ... get the picture?

Pat Flanagan is a former national sprint champion who was Kerry's strength and conditioning coach for three All-Ireland wins under Jack O'Connor (2004, '06 and '09). The IT Tralee lecturer is now involved with the Laois hurlers and also Peak Fitness, a strength and conditioning consultancy with a gym based out of Flanagan's native Waterford.

Suffice to say, he knows a footballing Usain Bolt when he sees one. "They're maximising the speed that they have," he surmises of Dublin. "They're training under Martin Kennedy, who I'd know. A lot of teams blunt that speed - both the natural speed and the development of speed - by maybe training too hard, too long, too far. My understanding of Dublin is that they're training to maximise the speed of the players they have. The volume is low and the speed is high.

"They also work hard, like the teams that I work with, on movement technique - how well they move and how well they stop and accelerate and decelerate."

Whatever about actual speed, what about Dublin's ability to keep going for 70 minutes? "That would be speed endurance, the ability to do short sprints and do lots of them and recover," says Flanagan. "I would have said the Armagh team of the mid-noughties definitely would have been the team that other teams couldn't stay with. They wore teams down with their physicality, their athleticism; and they always saw themselves as a team for the last 15-20 minutes.

"My guess, though, with Dublin is that they do 'wind up' ... they'd be unique enough in that. They seem to definitely increase tempo and build momentum during the game. And obviously you've got your very athletic subs, who come on and are straight into the pattern and movement."

To quote Spillane, here comes the cavalry ...

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