OK computer for top teams as technology becomes extra man
THE digital age has revolutionised inter-county football and hurling. No longer does a manager or coach rely solely on his own eyes or his instinctive judgment for a player's performance in training or matches.
Nowadays it's all about factual data, collated by teams of analysts who avail of computer-based technology that was in the realms of fantasy just 10 or 15 years ago.
At one stage in the last 30 years a simple pulse monitor was a wonder; then video offered teams and mentors a chance to review the action.
But now a mind-boggling amount of information is available through a combination of sports science and the latest gadgetry.
In the past, the likes of Kevin Heffernan or Mick O'Dwyer would have to trust his own expertise when it came to deciding whether to run the guts out of the lads in the week leading up to a big match or gently ease them down.
Now, Pat Gilroy and Jack O'Connor and the other top inter-county team managers can base their decisions on the statistics charts and camera angles that greatly expand their options.
The information is compiled from a variety of technologies including iPods, GPS tracking and computer analysis systems provided by specialist companies.
Many teams at all levels, international and domestic, ranging from the Irish soccer and rugby squads through to Gaelic games and even schools rugby sides, avail of this new technology.
Ironically, Dublin and Kerry are both using the SportsCode system from Avenir Sports this year, so their analysis of each other will leave nothing to chance -- and ultimately it will all come down to perspiration, inspiration, and possibly a mistake that decides next Sunday's final.
However, the fact remains that no top team can afford to do without the assistance of the performance-improvement equipment.
"It's been very useful being able to identify individuals, but also individual activities, and to be able to focus in on them in one frame, it's fantastic," said Dublin manager Pat Gilroy.
It is a view that Dublin defender Ger Brennan shares. "As a player and a team it's nice having that extra information on your opponent when you're going out, and it's broken down so simply and presented so effectively, it's very helpful," he said.
"It helps in two ways. First of all, I can take a look at the opposition centre-forward or half-forward.
"I can look at his movements, look at his strengths and weaknesses and try to exploit them myself, and I can look at post-analysis of my own performances, and see what I need to work on."
Ray Boyne, who has been working on video analysis for the Dubs over the last six years, loves the fact the system can be used during matches.
"What we're doing is we're actually taking the game on a live stream, through the software, and we're tagging real-time, and we're getting up-to-the-minute information about all the events that are happening all over the field," he said.
"That's directly fed down to the sideline and it's influencing the changes that we're making, and obviously the impact that's having is far greater.
"It means we can spot things and do things a lot quicker than before."