A graduate of the Setanta College MSc programme, Limerick S&C coach Mikey Kiely joined Setanta College President Dr. Liam Hennessy ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland Hurling Final, discussing preparations for inter-county GAA in the world of COVID-19.

A Supporting Role

The road to the 2020 All-Ireland Hurling Final has been different to other years, and presented a set of challenges that Mikey Kiely wouldn’t have envisaged in his first year as Limerick’s strength & conditioning coach. In a condensed Championship, time was the most precious factor. When speaking about his role with the Limerick team, he emphasises how hurling needed to be prioritised, with everything else feeding into it.

“It’s a hurling game, players have to be hurling. S&C is a small part of performance. Two parts that we can control are intensity and duration. Controlling those two elements and putting parameters in place for the hurling coaches has been my main job for the last 8 weeks – guiding the management and coaching teams on intensity and duration. I don’t need to be interjecting if I can have those two things right. We do very little conditioning without the hurley and ball. It allows us to maximise our time.”

While this season may be his first in the senior set-up, Mikey was recently the Head of Performance with the Limerick Academy for three years. During this time, the minor team reached the All-Ireland Final in 2016 while in 2017, the U21s won the All-Ireland title. Having worked with many of the current Limerick players in underage teams, S&C has always played the supporting role to the hurling-first approach.

“When the likes of Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes came into the Academy, they were there because they were already good hurlers. They weren’t there because they had a good S&C programme at 16 years of age. What we need to do is improve their performance, but you’re not going to do that by having S&C take over within the whole programme.”

Spring Uncertainty

At the beginning of March, it was a distinct possibility that no team would be preparing for an All-Ireland Final in 2020. The suspension of all GAA activity on the 12th of March was initially due to last for a couple of weeks.

“Of course, there were much bigger things going on, but I was disappointed when it happened as we were in brilliant shape back in February and March. So at the start, it was all about maintenance.”

As further restrictions were introduced in Ireland and across the world, it became clear that the COVID-19 crisis was not going to be short-lived. This required a change of approach.

“Between club and county, it was a long time since the players had the opportunity to have an off-season. So, we decided to have one. We did nothing. We didn’t contact the players, they didn’t contact us. We had a total break from each other.”

Preparing for a Return

This downtime afforded an opportunity to develop new ideas for the possible return to training. With renewed hope during this period of the Championship going ahead, a conversation with a friend, who is a sprinter, sparked the introduction of one such idea.

“Everyone was working from home at this stage and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do a couple of blocks of speed work and speed biomechanics?’. The lads were at home and had loads of time to do it as we weren’t on the pitch. It would allow them to maximise their recovery. So we did two blocks, working on biomechanics and acceleration. Speed isn’t something you generally get to work on because you need time and a lot of recovery. We do speed work in sessions, but as S&C coaches we sometimes fool ourselves as to how effective we can be.

The speed blocks resulted in improved acceleration performance over 5m and 20m on the return to training from previous testing in February, and I also believe that it built robustness. We’ve had no on-pitch soft tissue injury in Championship so far this year. I’d like to think that this work, along with the conditioning and the exposure the hurling coaches gave, contributed to that.”

As the S&C coach, creativity and adaptability were needed in abundance throughout the year. Along with no access to the players, gyms were closed and there was limited equipment available to support individual training.

“We did everything we could to get players simple equipment. It wasn’t the best-case scenario and I think this is where it’s important to have creativity as a coach. Every player had one dumbbell, one barbell with two light weights on it, one really heavy dumbbell and a medicine ball.

We went as creative as we could and we lifted what we could. It was a really creative period and I think everyone was in the same boat. There was no right or wrong answer at that time.”

The Condensed Championship

When the club season concluded, the players returned to the inter-county set-up and the Munster Championship was just around the corner. Once again, the two metrics already in place, intensity and duration, came to the fore when planning sessions.

“We would have trained harder during the Munster Championship and put more of an emphasis on tapering lately. But having that emphasis on intensity and duration was important. We also have a very good coach in Paul Kinnerk. Paul understands and looks for the data. He wants to know how hard the players perceive a certain game is within the session. He wants to know what level their heart rates are at, and we don’t bring the team back into training until they have recovered. We’re using that data continuously throughout a session, but it never gets in the way of the session.”

With an All-Ireland Final to look forward to, it would seem that the strategies implemented by Mikey throughout the year have worked, playing their part in helping the team to reach this stage. However, he highlights that it is not as simple to come to that conclusion.

“We were obviously in an unknown situation and to say I did the right thing or wrong thing, I’m still not sure. Sometimes results work out and it can look like the right thing but we’re not really sure if it is. It wasn’t simple, but we were as creative as we could be and worked on things I thought might benefit us down the road.”

Setanta Talks

Mikey Kiely joined Dr. Liam Hennessy as part of our Setanta Talks series. Stay tuned for the full episode, where the pair also discussed Mikey’s background and education, his work with professional jockeys as part of his PhD and more insights into the strength and conditioning industry.

Mikey is a graduate of the Setanta College MSc programme, which has evolved into our MSc in Performance Coaching. You can learn more about this programme here. 

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