'We can be the next Donegal'
All-Ireland champions showed us way out of middle tier, insists Roscommon captain
'IF you train slow, you will be slow." Cathal Cregg is explaining the findings of a study he and current Sligo footballer David Kelly undertook during two years of post-graduates studies at DCU.
The pair, together with another student, Crionna Tobin, analysed two groups undertaking vastly different collective GAA training techniques.
One group did high-intensity interval training, short and fast over compressed time periods. The other group did much more time-consuming endurance work.
The results concluded what has been suspected for some time. That less was actually more.
"I suppose that has been well-known in a couple of different sports, but the GAA have lagged behind, more at club level than county level, where you can get the same benefits working at high intensity for shorter periods rather than doing long, slow-type work.
"It took two years to write up the whole document, but it was a six-week training programme," he explained. "We compared 40 minutes of endurance training to 20 minutes of high-intensity training, three times a week.
"The time commitment was massively higher, 870 minutes in the endurance group, whereas it was only 200 minutes with the high-intensity group.
"We measured speed and power and both groups improved by 7pc. The endurance group couldn't jump as high or weren't quick over 20 metres."
According to professor Niall Moyna, the head of the health and human performance department out of which they conducted the studies, it could force teams to change their approach to the way they train for good.
Cregg sees the potential time savings as arguably the most important outcome.
"Why devote double the time to something when it could be constructively used for other aspects of preparation?" he asks.
Fitness and sports science have long been "an obsession" for Cregg, Roscommon captain for tomorrow's Connacht semi-final against Mayo in Castlebar.
Four years completing a degree in sports science, followed by two years takings a masters in exercise physiology, gives him quite a unique insight into the mechanics of the athlete.
A contemporary of Bryan Cullen's in the same DCU department, he envisaged following Dublin's All-Ireland winning captain into a career providing back-up and expertise for a rugby team.
He spent his placement with Connacht Rugby, working with their strength and conditioning coaches Kevin Craddock and Greg Mulhern.
Late last year, with his studies completed, he travelled abroad to enhance his appreciation of his chosen subject, working in some esteemed Boston gyms and travelling to Australia where he observed former Cavan footballer Nicholas Walsh at AFL club Great Western Sydney.
The obsession and the interest has taken him down a road he never expected to travel as the first dedicated strength and conditioning coach in Connacht GAA, working at their superb new centre of excellence near Ballyhaunis.
The work involves setting up a service for Connacht clubs and development squads to provide advice on every aspect of training that they could shell out significantly more money for if they were to seek such a service from independent providers.
It's a ground-breaking venture for the province.
"We lay out fitness tests, movement screens for injury prevention, video analysis for proper coaching, nutrition advice. We also provide the same services to all the development squads from different counties.
"Later on in the year, we'll be putting together educational programmes for coaches of underage club teams right through to senior club guys who are working with academies. It's just to give your football coaches advice on how to plan out their training session as efficiently as possible in areas such as injury prevention."
The quest for success at every level must be tempered with a proper balance that takes welfare into consideration. Right now he senses that's not happening in the GAA.
"Some of the training is smarter these days. I still think there will be problems for players later on in life. I think the GAA really has to look at injury prevention. Everyone wants to win but, at the end of the day, it's an amateur sport and every player needs to be out on the pitch enjoying the game, especially youngsters," he says.
"There are a lot of problems with posture, lower-back pain, knee injuries and all that type of stuff and
we really need to get to the bottom of that and put in place a safe and effective programme to prevent injuries before we even start looking at strength and conditioning for improving performance."
Expert by day, Cregg insists there is no overlap when he trades places to become Roscommon footballer in the evening. There is no temptation to get 'hands on.'
Cregg, a member of the Roscommon team since 2006, has enough to be doing in his own right.
At 4.0 tomorrow, Roscommon will become the last team to enter the 2013 championship.
Not even the most devout supporter gives them a chance and even the five-point handicap that most bookmakers offer is considered beyond their reach.
Still he has his own targets to meet. Ask him what constitutes a good season for Roscommon and the response from their athletic half-forward is unequivocal and detached from the general mood.
"A Connacht title, reaching an All-Ireland quarter-final, even a semi-final has to be within our reach," he figures. "If you were to break it down, we're in the middle tier of teams. We've been good and bad over the last few years, but consistency is our biggest problem. We haven't done it on a consistent basis.
"We're a young side we've been saying it for the last two or three years, but we now need to be getting it together and getting that consistency."
It was from that same middle tier that Donegal sprung from two years ago and Cregg has no trouble accepting a parallel path that Roscommon can follow.
"There are similarities. Like us, they had good U-21 teams a few years back and plenty of players who won Sigerson Cup medals with Sligo.
"Karl Lacey won one with Jordanstown. Definitely, what they have done has opened eyes for counties like us."
Last year, Cregg accepts, was virtually a write-off.
He endured one of his "most embarrassing days" as a Gaelic footballer against Galway in the opening round of the Connacht Championship, a crushing 14-point defeat in front of a home crowd at Hyde Park.
"If you were to define last year that Galway game will stand out. We recovered to beat Armagh and played well for a half against Tyrone. But we lost the momentum picked up in the previous two years under Fergal O'Donnell."
John Evans is in place now and Cregg respects the enthusiasm and energy he brings to the task.
"There is a lot of talent here and it's really time Roscommon started utilising it before it's too late."