Chasing oz magic

Former Hurler of the Year, Michael Fennelly is Australia bound, and it is all to further his education and understanding of sport.

Former Hurler of the Year, Michael Fennelly is Australia bound, and it is all to further his education and understanding of sport.

Some weeks ago the Ballyhale Shamrocks man studied the workings of Premier League soccer club West Bromwich Albion, but the adventure Down Under is an altogether different challenge as Fennelly will spend Christmas away from his family and loved ones.

“It is something different, a real adventure in some ways,” the 28-year-old told the ’People when he spoke about the latest chapter in his studies at the University of Limerick where he is studing for a Masters in Sports Performance.

Fennelly, who is sidelined with an ankle injury until 2014, will fly to Australia on November 26 to join top AFL club, Sydney Swans for over two months in an ‘access all areas’ study for his thesis. The ’Swans are one of the biggest outfits in the professional Australia Rules games, serving a New South Wales division with a population close to four million.

Explore GPS technology

“It is a form of work experience, I suppose,” the six times All-Ireland medal winner continued. “I will work for two months or so with the officials and players at the club, see what they do, how they operate, how they do their strength and conditioning work and so on.”

Australian Rules clubs are huge into sport and health, and there is a big concentration on the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, which Fennelly is eager to explore. The door to the ’Swans club was opened for Fennelly by their former star, Tadhg Keneally,who was an All-Ireland senior football medal winner with Kerry a few years ago.

“I will be looking at general fitness, nutrition, the psychology of sport and how they use the GPS technology,” Michael explained. “The Australian Rules clubs are well up on all aspects of sports science. They do a lot of altitude training from what I can gather. They include swimming and boxing too, running and gym work. That would be excellent stuff.”

He will be joining the ’Swans in pre-season. He will be studying the daily training programmes, and he is especially keen to see how they integrate GPS technology into things.

“I am really looking forward to it,” he insisted. “It will be a completely new experience. I was in West Brom recently for a week. I got a nice feel for what they do. That was most informatiive. Now I can see what the Aussie Rules sides do as well.

“It should be an interesting mix, a good addition for my studies.”

GPS technology is gaining in popularity in soccer and sport in general. It can gauge how far players run during games, and much, much more.

“The ordinary person would be wondering how far a player runs in a match,” Michael went on to explain. “GPS can relate how many accelerations, deaccelerations, how the heart rate is changing during matches. It can pick up on fatigure as well. The body can be slowed down from taking impacts.

Mountain of information

“There is a mountain of information you can get through the GPS system. I know the soccer clubs use it big time. Real Madrid were looking for Gareth Bale’s GPS data before buying him from Spurs. It is relatively new in soccer. Manchester United have only been using it for four years, apparently. West Brom are using it.

“Slowly it is coming into hurling. Tyrone used it in Gaelic football this year. It gives more knowledge, more information to managers about players, their performances and so on. It will be a big part of sport going forward.”

Armed with such information, team managers can adapt training sessions and make them more specific to individuals in panels and so on.

“That is the key to it; to fine tune training for the game, sport and the individuals involved,” Michael said. “This is my first year doing this. I have learned a lot, and there is loads more to learn.”

The GPS monitor is a unit the size of a mouse that is placed in a pocket of a piece of sports gear - it looks like a bra for all the world, he explained - at the back of the neck area. It is comfortable for the player to wear. There is no danger on impact.

“Players rarely get a knock in that area,” Michael explained. “It monitors knocks and so on. Every time a player runs it measures the expenditure of energy.”

He was very impressed by the way West Brom use the technology. He spent days with the first team and watched their training, drills, gym work and so on. The Baggies used it during training.

“I liked their Academy set up, “ he said of that experience. “They have great facilities. They get together the best players in the Birmingham area for four weeks during the summer. They have them in from 9am to 4.30pm doing drills, set plays, psychology, stats, video analysis and so on.

“I enjoyed learning about all that,” he said.

He got to meet manager Steve Clarke, who worked with Jose Mourinho at Chelsea previously. Former Irish soccer international and Charlton goalkeeper, Dean Kiely, whose father Larry hails from Belline, Pitown, was the contact there. Kiely is a coach with West Brom.

Degree in Business Studies

“He was unbelievably good to me,” Michael insisted.

During the next few weeks a visits to the Kinetica Centre of Excellence for nutrition in Cork is on the cards. The door opener here was Kilkenny colleague, Richie Power, who works with the company.

“Nutrition is a big part of sport too,” Michael added. “After that it will be on to Sydney Swans. Hopefully I can find a job then after all my galavanting.”

Michael has an Honours Degree in Business Studies. He worked with Ulster Bank for five years, but he gave it up to follow his dream of eventually working full time in sport.