Karl MacGinty: Appliance of science takes Harrington to Thurles 'lab'
It came as absolutely no surprise to find Pádraig Harrington at the cutting edge of physical science yesterday.
The Dubliner attended the official opening of 'Sportslab', a futuristic €3.7m facility which already is drawing interest from elite sports entities around the world, including Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and United, to the Thurles campus of the Limerick Institute of Technology.
Harrington arguably is the fittest 43-year-old in golf after 18 years working with internationally acclaimed strength and conditioning expert Dr Liam Hennessy, one of the driving forces behind this ground-breaking initiative in Co Tipperary though his own Setanta College.
Few understand better than Harrington the importance of Dr Hennessy's expertise in helping him find the minimum effective amount of physical training to allow maximum practice and least impact on competitive performance.
That's the holy grail of professional sport, especially intensive team games like soccer, rugby or cricket.
In part, this helps explain why Michael Clegg, the former Manchester United player who is head strength and conditioning coach at Sunderland, currently is studying for his Masters at LIT Thurles.
Harrington's insatiable quest for perfection has taken him around the world but he readily concedes never having seen a facility as advanced as 'Sportslab', which will give 100 graduates each year cutting-edge skills as trainers and teachers.
At the heart of the Thurles operation lies a specially-equipped chamber which, Dr Hennessy explained, contains "the only system in Europe and is one of very few in the world that analyses motion and movement in the human body without wires or sensors".
With 32 cameras and software ingeniously adapted from Holywood's CGI programming, it's possible to evaluate the "fundamental movement skills" of an entire team, player-by-player, within an hour.
Each player receives a green, yellow or red rating. Those who get green are cleared for full training; yellow indicates a little preparatory work is needed on weaknesses detected in the muscular-skeletal system, while red highlights problems requiring immediate attention.
Little wonder FA Premier League clubs want to install this system at their training grounds.
Harrington understands the importance of being readily able to identify the specific requirements of each sportsman, whether that's each individual within a squad or performers from entirely different arenas.
He cites good friend Shane Lowry, 28, as a case in point. Lowry's been working on his conditioning with leading Irish amateur golfer Robbie Cannon, one of Dr Hennessy's star 'pupils' and therefore, in Harrington's opinion, perfectly equipped to understand the needs of the Clara man.
"When I first heard Shane was working out, I thought, 'Oh my God'," said Harrington. "That's a very, very dangerous road to go down. You change your body shape too quickly or do the wrong things, it can have a big effect. Throw the wrong trainer in there with Shane and it could go horribly wrong ... but I was thrilled when I heard it was Robbie. He knows his stuff."
Similarly, Harrington has no fear of Rory McIlroy becoming 'too muscle-bound' for golf under a programme devised by English expert Dr Stephen McGregor.
"Rory's golf is good and it's not doing him any harm. He's a young guy and wants to look the part, good luck to him," said Harrington, laughing: "If I'd a body like Ronaldo, I'd rip my T-shirt off on the 18th every time I holed a putt … but I know not to do that."
Harrington plays Irish Open venue Royal Co Down today with Lowry in a fourball match in which they'll be partnered by caddies, Ronan Flood and Dermot Byrne. "We'll be trying harder in that match than any other we play this year," he joked.
He has next week off before embarking on a four-tournament stretch (The Players, then Quail Hollow, Wentworth and Co Down) which he believes will yield the top-five finish necessary to propel him into the World's Top 60 and clinch a place in June's US Open.
If not, he'll play the US qualifier at Walton Heath the Monday of Irish Open week. Harrington insists: "Absolutely. I'll take any opportunity to win a Major, don't care how. I've no pride. There's no embarrassment in me!"