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Sean Cavanagh's Conversations With SPL Footballer Say A Lot About GAA Training Sessions

PJ Browne
By PJ Browne


There are GAA players these days who can talk for ages and say very little. Some are masters of the art; conveying a litany of cliches with very little substance.

Sean Cavanagh has the ability to talk but his words do not lack effect.

Speaking ahead of Tyrone and Cavan's National League Division 2 final a week on Sunday, Cavanagh addressed Kieran McGeeney's recent remark that GAA players are not elite athletes.

Cavanagh's younger brother Colm is friends with Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn, formerly of Celtic and now Aberdeen. The 28-year-old, from Dungannon, is likely to be part of Michael O'Neill's squad which travels to France for Euro 2016.

McGinn is a professional footballer, but still, the level at which Tyrone are training astonishes him.

If Gaelic footballers aren't elite athletes, it frightens me to think what elite athletes are. Just us a team, you are on the field training three or four nights a week and then you are in the gym two or three times a week.

A good friend of Colm's [his brother] is Niall McGinn, who is playing over in Aberdeen. He would be home from time to time and he'd call in, and we'd be chatting and comparing training schedules.

We'd always be looking to see what brilliant training regime they would be on. Their strength and conditioning stuff seems to be way behind what we are currently doing.

He's getting to the stage where he's looking at our stuff and going 'what are you doing here, what's the secret, how are you doing this?'

I don't know how he [Kieran McGeeney] is coming around to those conclusions. I'm not sure how a person can output more energy out of their body.

When it comes to modern training methods, Tyrone have been early adopters. They were one of the first counties to use GPS data to measure player output during games and training.

Recently, Sean Cavanagh took a look Tyrone's current stats in comparison to three years ago. The raw data makes it clear to him how much the game has evolved in a short period of time.


I was comparing some of the GPS stats back in 2013 to where they are now, and in some instances there's like a 10 per cent speed difference, even from three years ago. It's up 10 per cent in terms of top speeds we are hitting; it's amazing to look at. That's the beauty of having the data, you realise how quick and powerful the game has become.

I was just looking at the team stats and the average top speeds and the average output of top speed running and total running in a game. I'd say someone could write a fair article on it because it's interesting to see in the space of three years the differences. They are quite glaring.

I was speaking a few months ago to Phillip Jordan and saying to him 'training's become so much more difficult' and I remember thinking to myself at the time 'Is it because you're getting older, Sean, or is it because of the type of player there is in GAA at the moment?' I genuinely believe it's because of the type of player. There used to be a group of corner backs or corner forwards who were never as athletically powerful as someone playing around the middle. Those types of player are gone, everyone now is a serious athlete first and foremost and maybe a footballer second. Whereas, when I started out, it was more important to be a football player than to be an athlete.

That's just the way the game has gone. Running power has become very important and I suppose whenever you see it in black and white in the GPS stats, it really hits home how the game has evolved.

Cavanagh does not lament the days when it was more important to be a footballer than an athlete. He has always been a great athlete himself. If he does have one misgiving about modern day training, it's that when training is concluded, he no longer has the energy to give a little extra to the skills of the game.

It just means that 10 years ago you were at the front of those running lines and now you are the back of those running lines.

You have to put out so much more energy on any training night than you previously used to do. You used to come off the training field thinking 'oh I've still got a bit left in the tank, I'll do a bit of kicking'.

Now you are coming off the training field barely fit to put one foot in front of the other.

The three-time All-Ireland winner has entered the latter part of his career. He readily admits that Championship 2016 could be the final chapter for him as an inter-county player.


Oh yeah, for sure. I'd say there's a fair chance. There's no point in me saying any different.

I'm 33 now and like anything in life the injuries start niggle at you a wee bit. I'm lucky enough at the moment that I'm in pretty good shape. It just gets tougher every year with the time commitment and injuries too.

I always had made the promise to myself and to my wife that I wouldn't want to see myself limping to the end either. It's not fair to do that on the team either that it would be come to the stage where you are living on a reputation.

I don't want to be that sort of a person - it's not fair to anyone. I just said to myself as long as I'm fit and healthy and enjoying myself I would do it.

With ten minutes remaining in last year's All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry, Tyrone were behind by the minimum. A strong finish from Kerry would see them make another September appearance at Croke Park.

If Tyrone had defeated the Kingdom on that August day and then gone on to beat Dublin in the final, Cavanagh says that would have been it for him at inter-county level.

Even though thoughts of retirement are very real, the 33-year-old's love of playing for Tyrone has not diminished.

To be honest, I think if we'd made it to the final last year and won it I'd have been happy to walk away. There always is that wee bit in you, I think it happens to every sportsperson that they'll always want that wee bit more. I've been around long enough to know that you shouldn't overstay your welcome either. You learn to gauge you body and what it can give out and it certainly gets more difficult to put out the same energy as you have in years gone past.

At the moment I'm still living the dream. I still love playing for Tyrone. I still love every night of training. I love being part of the group but you have to be realistic and know that it's coming to an end; it's coming to an end very soon. You have to relish every day as I am now.

Read more: Recently Retired Armagh Footballer Scolds Joe Brolly For Calling Armagh Footballers 'Shit'

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