In 1991 Setanta College founder, Liam Hennessy, featured on a Tipperary backroom team which came up against a fancied Kilkenny side in the All-Ireland final. You could say it was a precursor to the great rivalry that developed between the two counties and now 28 years later the teams meet in the GAA Senior All Ireland Hurling Final, the culmination of a dramatic 2019 season.

Back then the Tipperary manager, Michael ‘Babs’ Keating, was intrigued as to what Liam could bring to his talented squad. Famously Babs became worried when he heard that Tipp’s opponents in the first round of the Munster Championship, Limerick, had clocked up 120 training sessions in preparation for the match. Tipp, on the other hand, had recorded a meagre 59.

Introducing a sports scientist in GAA circles back then was a bold move, and the rumour mill was in full flow. The result? Tipp beat Limerick by 2-18 to 0-10 and the rest, as they say, is history. Legends of the game such as Colm Bonnar, Declan Ryan, John Leahy, Pat Fox, and Nicky English went on to lift the Liam McCarthy come September.

There is a big difference between hard work and smart work. The key to good physical preparation is quality over quantity, while proper recovery remains the cornerstone of any successful programme. Thankfully sports science is now the norm in successful intercounty teams and the batton has been well and truly passed along.

A reflection from Liam Hennessy

Liam Fennelly and Noel Sheehy in action during the game in 1991.

It was a great privilege to be involved with that Tipperary All-Ireland hurling team of the early 1990s and also to play a support role for the 2001 All-Ireland winning team.

As we are now 28 years on, in this the 21st meeting of Tipperary and Kilkenny in an All-Ireland Hurling Final, I thought it interesting to reflect on a ‘then and now’ scenario. So, what are the biggest changes I see?

  1. The staff size (support staff number) was a fraction of what is now in place. This is a most welcome change.
  2. Specific staff roles. Years ago the small support staff consisted of no more than 10 individuals. Chiefly, the manager, coach, selectors, physio, doctor, trainer, masseur, and bagman. This small core of a support staff is now extended to include: position-specific or zone-specific coaches (goalkeeper coach, defence and offence or attack coaches, skill-specific such as free taking, and general sport skill), nutritionist, performance coach (mainly psychological role but also a lifestyle coach role), analyst (assessing and monitoring workload, technical and tactical elements of play and practice), rehab specialist (a more specific role now), a lead S&C coach and their support. All these individual roles need great coordination and management so there may even be an overall performance manager working to oversee the support team.
  3. GPS is now in use with most teams – a system worn by each player that provides movement and impact-related measurements. When the right unit is used and when the analyst and coach use the measurements gained in a sensible way, it can be a serious competitive advantage. Back in the 1990’s we did use video analysis to track each players movement but had to calculate manually the distances covered. Also, notational analysis, again from video recordings, were used back then to describe events such as time on the ball, time of ball in play, and so forth. Now technology does this and in a well set up system drones are used to give a birds-eye video view of training.

Well, I could go on! But one thing is for sure, there is certainly a need for a discussion on where all this development is leading. How far are we from having professional support set-ups in the GAA? Now that is a very interesting topic worthy of discussion.

Wishing our tutors, graduates, and students the very best of luck.

As a proud Tipperary man this may seem somewhat surprising, but I would like to wish equal success to all teams on Sunday. Not forgetting the Tipperary Senior Camogie Team who face Kilkenny on Saturday in an All-Ireland semi-final.

As educators in sports coaching, performance, and strength and conditioning, it is a pleasure to see our students and graduates excel in this great game.

Ag tnúth le comortas spóirt iontach.



Tipperary’s Brendan Maher, a graduate of Setanta College, with Kilkenny’s TJ Reid after the National League final in Thurles in 2014. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho