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Friday 21 September 2018

Dublin not finished article: Kennedy

Dublin's Martin Kennedy. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Dublin's Martin Kennedy. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

EXACTLY an hour and 17 minutes had passed since referee Joe McQuillan's final whistle in this year's All-Ireland football final had been blown when Jim Gavin, having been casually tossed the customary back-to-back question slung annually at the manager of the recently anointed champions, came back with this, most unique of answers.

"We've won this year, but the minute the referee blew the final whistle, that's the 2013 campaign finished with," he clinically stated. "I know from speaking to other managers, they are already setting themselves up for the 2014 season. You know, we are probably already behind that preparation being done behind the scenes."

It was, considering the proximity of his words to Dublin's crowning moment, quite the statement to make, yet highly indicative of Gavin's persona; considered, muted, ambitious.

Yet of all people, Martin Kennedy is probably best placed to ascertain the 'damage' done to Dublin's 2014 chances by virtue of winning in 2013.

"I suppose while our lads are having a small bit of a break and resetting, the other counties will be already up and running and already getting their pre-seasons underway," he points out.

"But rest and recovery is so important. It's vital that players get to rest at the end of the season."

Kennedy, for the uninitiated, is the founder and CEO of the National Athlete Development Academy (NADA) and attracted acclaim in GAA circles for his work with the Dublin hurlers prior to linking up with Gavin.

Previously, he played football for Nh Mearnóg (originally, and then St Vincent's) and at minor and U21 levels for Dublin prior to travelling to Australia and setting up NADA after earning a Masters in Exercise Science.

Now, having moved from the Aviva Stadium, NADA operate in a 10,000 square foot high-tech facility near Blanchardstown, housing hundreds of athletes per day across a smorgasbord of sports.

They run a soccer academy and, recently, Kennedy travelled to Liverpool with Dublin and former Ipswich goalkeeper Shane Supple to examine their facilities and operation. So the terms 'physical trainer' or 'strength and conditioning coach' do little justice to the expanse of Kennedy's contribution to Dublin's success this season.

"The term we use is 'athlete development'," he points out.

Pressure

"The term 'strength and conditioning' can be a bit one-dimensional. Players have to be strong, powerful and they have to be quick. They have to have decision-making ability and they have to be able to execute all their skills out on the pitch under pressure and under fatigue.

"They have to have very good body-awareness. They have to have those gymnastic-type skills that you should learn when you're younger. Game-based agility, reactive agility ... there is a huge amount in it."

In the case of Dublin, though, much of the components fitted together quite neatly. Yes, the team were praised for the rousing fashion in which they finished matches but according to Kennedy, much of that software came pre-installed.

"I think a lot of the credit has to go to the players because, when you reach that point in a match, the last few minutes, a lot is psychological. Yes, you have to have the fitness and the capacity and the tool kit to do it. But those guys push themselves to that level and they do it in matches and in the training session."

Can, for instance, a speedster like Jack McCaffrey clock faster sprint times as he matures physically or will the improvement centre more on the area of ball control and decision-making whilst running? "Some players are going to get to that ceiling quicker than others," Kennedy explains (pictured left).

"And there are guys that are ... we can't say that we made those guys quick. A lot of them are very good athletes already. So what we're trying to do is harness that. You're trying to build strong, resilient players who can move well. It's not just about making one sprint, it's about making 30, 40 or 50 over the course of a match.

"People look at speed in isolation, but it's really that repeated sprintability and it's about being able to execute a skill either during or at the end of that, whether that's making a tackle or receiving a pass or kicking a point."

You win a League and Sam Maguire double for the first time since 1976 and you're entitled to a little basking, but the realism and determination in this Dublin camp is palpable. Just the morning-after-the-All-Ireland-final-before, team doctor and 1970s legend David Hickey made a very pertinent point.

"This is not the finished product by any means. We still can't put one-on-ones away with the 'keeper. We don't slow down and that's the thing we need to work on next year," Hickey said.

Kennedy, without divulging specifics, agrees. "From NADA's point of view, there is still huge scope for improvement," he insists.

"The challenge is that the players aren't professional. So you have to make allowances for the rest of their lives and you have to make sure there is balance in any programme you do.

"But from what we set out to do last year, yeah we did achieve a couple of goals. But there was definitely areas we did fall down in and we need to improve if we want to do well again next year."

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