Coghlan at forefront of GAA's need for speed
It seems a strange transition: Dublin hurlers to Chinese sprinters to Meath footballers - three groups of such diverse and divergent talent that you'd have to fairly go digging to find the link.
But John Coghlan is just that, a trainer who knows that across the vast web of sporting endeavour, athleticism is a currency that never devalues. He is part of a growing trend in the GAA, that of the specialist speed coach.
In a game of inches, it's simple parameters like pace, power and pure strength that sometimes make the difference, but how best to weave the various strands together to prepare teams for, say, the searching test that is the 'Super 8s'?
"You need to be training them like a 10,000m runner and a 100m sprinter at the same time," said Coghlan. "It's about doing the right thing in the right amounts."
Coghlan first cut his coaching teeth in athletics, learning much of what he knows from US coach Loren Seagrave before returning to Ireland to work with a range of top sprinters. In the absence of any professional coaching structure here, he set off for China in 2015 where he worked with a host of world-class sprinters.
His work in the GAA stretches back to 2002, with Coghlan training various Dublin hurling teams between 2006 and 2013. In October 2016 he became head of physical development for Meath GAA, overseeing the physical preparation for its football and hurling teams ever since.
"Since 2011, when Dublin first won, there has been a bit of a change towards the leaner, more athletic types," he said. "You still need to be strong and powerful, but it's about getting the balance.
"In the '80s and '90s, most of the (physical) training was running-based and endurance-based.
"That has a place because the sport is highly aerobic but there's other aspects: your movement, strength and power.
"Through the noughties the northern teams put more emphasis on gym, strength, bulk and size but now it's more multi-faceted." Coghlan's sprinting background taught him the need for caution when it came to bulking up.
"There's an energy cost to carrying extra weight and if you take the power-to-weight ratio: for every pound of muscle you've got to produce an extra pound of power (to maintain speed) and it's much easier to lose a pound of muscle than produce an extra pound of power. You have to be really careful about not getting too big."
His task is to make the biggest impact with limited time. "If you improve your proficiency and speed it's going to improve your performance. There's ways to do that by mechanical reprogramming of your nervous system, stuff that was in athletics 30 years ago but is coming more into team sports."
With Meath, Coghlan monitors everything from heart-rate to GPS activity in training, checking the overall volume and intensity. "It helps you hone training sessions and figure out the physical load these guys are under."
The biggest mistake he sees in GAA? "There's a tendency towards too much high intensity. People think (getting fit is) about training really hard, falling down after sessions, but that hard anaerobic work doesn't really work on pure speed or endurance and it probably just predisposes you to getting injured."
In Croke Park tomorrow one of his key roles will be to take the Meath players through the warm-up, running drills he used with some of the world's fastest sprinters, programming movement patterns to make them more efficient movers, with or without the ball.
"Time is of the essence, so you're being as efficient as possible," he said.
With younger players, Coghlan follows coaching models for long-term athlete development, matching the workload to their physical maturity. But whether it's working with teenagers or fully-fledged inter-county players, the goal is the same.
"A more athletic player is going to be more co-ordinated and then you're going to pick up skills easier once they have that physical literacy," he added.
"You can't make them athletic enough."