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StatSports findings show training incursion times in GAA less than in games


Stock photo: Sportsfile

Stock photo: Sportsfile

Stock photo: Sportsfile

A typical competitive match will involve an average of 17 'incursions' per minute between players, lasting an average of 2.5 seconds each, StatSports GAA player proximity report has established.

The analysis found that during the average GAA training session, the average incursion will be shorter, 1.6 seconds, but they will occur far more frequently, an average of 43 per minute.

The detailed report has been completed by the Newry-based performance an analysis company which has the Dublin, Mayo, Tyrone, Donegal, Monaghan, Armagh, Meath, Cavan, Laois and Louth footballers in addition to the hurlers of Tipperary, Kilkenny, Wexford, Clare, Galway, Waterford, Cork and Dublin hurlers among its clientele.

The company's sports science department, headed by former Cavan footballer Barry Watters, analysed footage from six of the teams they work with between 2019 and 2020 which involved six training sessions and four games, league and provincial and All-Ireland championship, and covered the movement of 157 players over 375 hours. 

Last month they put together a white paper for their Premier League clients which established that the average incursion in training sessions analysed among four of their 15 clients across the water lasted 3.3 seconds and contributed to easing some concerns over contact levels in the current Covid-19 emergency.

An incursion in this context happens when players come within two metre radius of each other, the current recommended social distance in this country which GAA president John Horan has said will be a problem for a return as long as it remains a priority.

The company used its Apex 10 hertz GPS device (which players typically wear in sleeves attached to their back between their shoulders) that tracks their movement, exporting latitude and longitude from each player to the Python Pandas software where a custom spatiotemporal analysis is executed to illustrate frequency and duration inside the radius.

The information should be beneficial to teams as they plan to return to train and play in the coming weeks as the GAA completes its roadmap for the next few months.

Medics are more likely to be concerned about the prevalence of sweat, spit and snot transmissions in Gaelic games but StatSports' work paints a picture of what could be avoided and worked on in the early stages.

The data for games did not involve warm-ups or post-match activity and similarly, training didn't include pre or post training activity.

In games (average length 75 minutes and five seconds), each player was exposed to an average of 539 incursions, 17 per minute. While some of those lasted over a minute, the vast majority were under a second.

Across each game, it was calculated that a GAA player will, on average, spend 24.72 per cent of a game in close proximity to another player. Frequency of incursions was largely dependent on the positions a player played in.

The frequency of training incursions was much higher, an average of 3520 in the six sessions that lasted an average of 87 minutes. The type of drills being used heavily influenced that as did time taken out for water breaks and feedback from coaching which involved close proximity.

Significantly, the drills that delivered the highest number of incursions per minute for each player focused on tactical work around kick-outs in football, the report has established, with an average of 72 incursions per minute.

Small, medium and large sided games, ranging from three-a-side to seven-a-side and 10-a-side had between six and 10 incursions per minute.

Stripping out the kick-out drills the range of all other drills, including linear and multi-directional runs, kick-passing, tackling and shooting and those games, the range of incursions went from four to 27.

The analysis found that in training sessions, 90 per cent of players will come in close proximity with each other.

Mitigation against such frequency and time can take a few obvious paths. "Generally with all drills observed, the common theme seems to be 'space is your friend'. The more space afforded to players during drills, the lower the incursion rate," the analysis found, citing the difference in average incursions per minute when one team switched from a 90x90 metre grid for a 10-a-side game to a full-sized pitch.  The number dropped from 10 to three incursions with the expansion.

"We know that if the ratio of open space to the amount of participant per team is in favour of space, there will be significantly lower rates of incursion each minute," the report concludes.

It suggests that modifications at training to limit incursion frequency can be done by "limiting prolonged periods of player proximity, around water breaks and also recovery periods during conditioning work."