Train how you want to play: An insight to using drill classification for load management in Gaelic Football

Ryan McLaughlin

[7-min read]


The intermittent, chaotic demands of Gaelic Football will require players to perform high-speed, short-duration efforts of multi-directional, anaerobic movements in between longer periods of light to moderate aerobic efforts. On top of this, technical activities must be performed to contribute towards success in the game such as winning possession of the ball, evading opponents, and ‘breaking’ tackles while running at high speeds, Cullen et al (2017). 

Over the past decade, sport science has become an integral part of preparation/training within Gaelic Games certainly at elite inter-county level. The introduction of both subjective and objective load monitoring and athlete readiness advancements such as GPS, force plates, RPE ratings & wellness questionnaires have given coaches/practitioners the ability to dive deeper into how their players are responding to training and use load management to optimize performance and prevent injury. 

GPS Technology in Gaelic Football

Since the introduction of these technologies, external load metrics derived from GPS have heavily influenced the planning of individual training sessions and even entire blocks of training. Planning of training loads will be viewed from an ‘entire session’ perspective rather than the drills that the entire session is composed of. 6,000m total distance and 1,200m of high-speed running distance may be useful to know at the end of a session from a physical perspective but technically, tactically, and psychologically how were the players challenged?

Prescription of training drills should be underpinned with the goal of providing an adequate stimulus from a physical and technical skill standpoint to improve or maintain the conditioning of the player, completely depending on the time of the season, Ford and Whelan (2016).

GPS Derived Metrics

Metric nameDefinition
Total DistanceThe total distance covered by the athlete across the selected time period. Typically reported in meters or kilometers.
Distance/MinuteA relative measure of the intensity the total distance was covered at. Obtained by dividing the total distance by the selected time period in minutes.
High-speed Running DistanceSub-maximal running speeds defined by Malone et al (2015) as speeds ≥17 km/h. Typically reported in meters or kilometers.
SprintsA maximal running effort ≥ 22 km/h for at least 1 second as defined by Collins et al (2018) & Young et al (2019).
Sprint DistanceThe total distance covered during the sprint efforts occurring within the selected time period.
AccelerationsA rapid increase in speed of at least 3.0m/s/s as defined by Malone et al (2021). This speed threshold is present as to not include not running rapid movements such as lunging forwards.
DecelerationsContrasting to accelerations, a rapid decrease in speed of at least 3.0 m/s/s. This speed threshold is present to exclude marginal decreases in speed while running at high speeds.
High Metabolic Load DistanceThe distance a player travels while metabolic power (energy consumption per kilogram per second) is above 25.5 W/kg. Typically includes high-speed running, acceleration, and deceleration distances in unison. Can be used as a marker of intensity.
Absolute Speed ZonesSpeed zones taken from Cummins et al (2013) are:

Walking (0-7 km/h)
Running at Low Speed (7-13 km/h)
Running at Medium Speed (13-18 km/h)
Running at High Speed (18-21 km/h)
Sprinting (>21 km/h)
Table 1: Commonly used GPS Metrics

Drill Classification and Load Management

Currently, in Gaelic football, the total load/physical demands of each training session will be used to inform practice and the following training sessions for the week, this is extremely useful from a load management perspective however it does not tell us much about the composition of the session. Each drill performed will provide different physical, technical, and tactical stimuli, which should be taken into consideration particularly when preparing to play the game with certain principles or within a ‘system’.

Previous research by McGahan et al provides categories to best describe traditional training activities commonly performed in Gaelic football training. However, to date, no published research has examined training drill activities and their relationship with competition demands within Gaelic football.

The categorisation system employed to classify the different session’s practice activities was adapted from that used by Ford and Whelan (2016). Ford and Whelan (2016) assessed the practice activities of four youth football teams from each of three professional clubs in England. Drills were classified into 2 main categories; active decision making and non-active decision making with sub-categories inside these two categories.

Active Decision-making
Skills (active)Isolated technical or tactical skills from game situations in a small group with some opposition in which the players are active decision-makers.
Uni-directional GamesUni-directional in a small group towards one line (e.g. 2 vs. 1).
Small-sided and Conditioned GamesBi-directional with a team vs. team but with variations to player numbers, rules, goals, or areas of play (e.g. teams scoring by carrying across end-line).
Possession GamesGames with no goals in which the main intention is for one team to maintain possession of the ball from another.
Phase of PlayUni-directional match play in a larger group towards one goal.
Non-active Decision-making
FitnessImproving fitness aspects of the game with no focus on technical or tactical skills (e.g., warm-up, cool down, conditioning).
TechnicalIsolated technical skills unopposed either alone or in a group.
Skills (non-active)Isolated technical or tactical skills from game situations, in a small group with some opposition in which there is no active decision making for the players
TransitionMovement from the end of one activity to the start of another activity. It is an activity that is not football-related (e.g. drink breaks). This includes the coach’s explanation of the forthcoming activity and a debrief of the preceding activity.
Table 2: Categories and definitions of football-practice activities used for analysis.

Data around the expected output of each drill can be extremely useful for coaches/practitioners in planning their sessions with load management in mind. A practical example of this could be during training week where two sessions have been completed and planning for the third and final session of the week is taking place while aiming to achieve a set amount of total distance, high-speed running distance, accelerations, and decelerations in order to provide a weekly load which is optimal for the squad.

Instead of monitoring the session live and simply ‘calling it’ when players reach these pre-determined numbers, if we plan the session with a general idea of what the physical output will be from each player in each specific drill or general drill classification, we can begin to focus on quality coaching rather than having load management as the main priority in our heads during the session.

Table 3 below provides an example of the average physical output that can be expected of some Gaelic football training drills.

Drill NameDrill CategoryDrill Sub-categorym/minHSR/minAccel/minDecel/min
Partner Skill Practice
(Kick/Hand Passing)
Skills (non-active)
Linear Conditioning
Repeated Sprint Ability
Offensive Play – ScoringActive
Skills (active)82.522.30.80.4
1 v 1 Tackling GridActive
Uni-directional Games68.
2 v 1 Tackling GridActive
Uni-directional Games72.615.21.61.2
3 v 2 Open Space TacklingActive
Uni-directional Games72.716.61.31.0
2 v 4 Open Space Tackling Active
Uni-directional Games89.
4 v 3 Open Space Tackling Active
Uni-directional Games96.530.51.11.0
Possession Game
Possession Games82.617.60.60.8
LSG – 15 v 15
Conditioned Game
Conditioned Games163.338.60.70.9
LSG – 15 v 15
Complete Football
Complete Football138.
Table 3: Drill classifications and average physical outputs

From the data above, coaches/practitioners can then begin to determine which drills will provide adequate physical stimulus without compromising the football-based factors of development. Practical examples of these dilemmas may be where the team has received a high volume of high-speed running distance in their previous session and the upcoming training session aims to be football-focused without the demand for high-speed running distances. We know that a drill such as “2 v 4 Open Space Tackling” will allow football-based training to occur, with a higher amount of accelerations and decelerations than other drills and a reduced amount of high-speed running. 

Relating Training Data to Game Data

Above all else, the ability to perform in competitive football games should be the priority of all training. As a coach, it is a useful exercise to sit down with the physical output data from your drills and ask, are we training a similar way to how we are expected to play? Have the players been pushed to adequate volumes and intensities over training blocks in the lead-up to competition? Do our drills replicate physical, technical, and tactical situations that will arise in competitive gameplay?

There is a bulk of research available currently to provide insights into the physical demands of club, Mangan et al (2020) and inter-county, McGahan et al (2018), level football for coaches to gain an insight to general demands of their game, however, it will always be recommended to base your training from your team’s contribution to games where possible rather than general research.

Image 1: Kerry GAA Competitive Football Match v Dublin GAA. Source: Kerry GAA


In summary, it is becoming increasingly important to consider the composition of training sessions as well as the session as a whole in the planning process. GPS data can play a large role in load management by monitoring the physical training loads placed upon each player in training and competition, this data however needs to be complemented with technical and tactical feedback to determine if the desired training outcomes are being achieved in competitive performances.


  1. Cullen, B.D., Roantree, M.T., McCarren, A.L., Kelly, D.T., O’Connor, P.L., Hughes, S.M., Daly, P.G. and Moyna, N.M., 2017. Physiological profile and activity pattern of minor Gaelic football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research31(7), pp.1811-1820.
  2. Ford PR, Whelan J. 2016. Practice activities during coaching sessions in elite youth football and their effect on skill acquisition. In: Allison W, Abraham A, Cale A, editors. Advances in coach education and development: from research to practice. London (UK): Routledge; p. 112–123.
  3. Malone S, Solan B, Collins KD, Doran DA. Positional Match Running Performance in Elite Gaelic Football. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Aug;30(8):2292-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001309. PMID: 26694505.
  4. Collins, D. Kieran1; McRobert, Allistair2; Morton, James P.2; O’Sullivan, Declan1; Doran, Dominic A.1,2 The Work-Rate of Elite Hurling Match-Play, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2018 – Volume 32 – Issue 3 – p 805-811 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001822
  5. Young D, Malone S, Collins K, Mourot L, Beato M, Coratella G. Metabolic power in hurling with respect to position and halves of match-play. PLoS One. 2019 Dec 31;14(12):e0225947. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225947. PMID: 31891945; PMCID: PMC6938404.
  6. Cummins C, Orr R, O’Connor H, West C. Global positioning systems (GPS) and microtechnology sensors in team sports: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2013 Oct;43(10):1025-42. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0069-2. PMID: 23812857.
  7. Hoffmann, J.J., Reed, J.P., Leiting, K., Chiang, C.Y. and Stone, M.H., 2014. Repeated sprints, high-intensity interval training, small-sided games: Theory and application to field sports. International journal of sports physiology and performance9(2), pp.352-357.
  8. Mangan, S., Collins, K., Burns, C. and O’Neill, C., 2020. The positional technical and running performance of sub-elite Gaelic football. Science and Medicine in Football4(3), pp.182-191.
  9. McGahan J, Burns C, Lacey S, Gabbett T, and O’Neill C. 2018 An investigation in to the positional running demands of elite Gaelic football players: how competition data can inform training practice. Journal of Strength and Conditioning

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Athlete Monitoring Performance Training Load

About the author

Ryan McLaughlin

Ryan Mc Laughlin of Ryan McLaughlin Coaching, is a Physical Performance Coach & Sports Scientist working with elite and sub-elite team field sport and individual sport athletes in Ireland. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Sports Science while he holds a BSc (Hons) in Sport Coaching & Performance and an MSc in Strength & Conditioning.

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