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Are they the best or are they simply the biggest? Fitzgerald’s research is helping Kerry to identify young talent



by Adam Moynihan

Fascinating academic research by former Kerry captain Fionn Fitzgerald is helping Kerry GAA to more accurately identify senior stars of the future.

Fitzgerald, a lecturer at MTU Kerry in Tralee, is currently undertaking a PhD on the topic of the maturation effect in underage sports. He has found that although players in Kerry’s development squads might be the same age and play at the same age group, some of them get their growth spurts earlier than others. These early maturing players can, in effect, be much older than their peers from a biological standpoint.

In simple terms, Fitzgerald has examined the advantages early maturing players have over their teammates, and the effects this can have on all of the players within the system.

“We knew that age was an issue,” Fitzgerald explains. “We had explored this before in football and Gaelic games and we found a huge age bias (e.g. players born in January have an advantage over players born later in the year).

“But we also suspected that early maturing players were getting a lot more opportunities and were dominating sport. We then went about investigating if that is, in fact, the case.”

In short, that is precisely the case. The Dr Crokes man discovered that out of roughly 180 players in Kerry’s development squads, only one was categorised as 'late maturing'. The rest were either 'on-time' or 'early maturing'. The stark figures clearly indicate that coaches had been selecting players based on performance – which at underage level can often correlate with physical attributes - rather than potential.

“Scouts and coaches in all sports have been picking for winning, even at that level. That kind of narrowmindedness is magnifying the maturation effect. We have found that when we worked with the development squad coaches for over a year – and in fairness they really supported the work and bought into it – they got a greater understanding of the subject, and they kept more players in the system.

“They were less likely to dismiss a player as being ‘not up to it’ or ‘too small’. They were trying to keep an open mind.

“It's just very hard to make a conclusive call on a 14-year-old. This maturation aspect is not everything but it’s one huge factor that clearly clouds coaches’ opinions.

“You normally see more of a level playing field at minor than you would at U14. But the problem is that some players have already dropped out by then. And the players who were the main men, playing in central positions all along, they’re probably struggling because everyone else has caught up with them physically.”


Instead of just going by chronological age, i.e. the player’s age according to their date of birth, Fitzgerald and his peers also use a metric called biological age. This involves measuring the player’s height and weight, as well as the height and weight of their parents. This data is then used to predict where the player is in terms of their physical development and where they will end up as an adult.

Being able to pinpoint when a player might be in the middle of a growth spurt is also helpful when it comes to injury prevention; players are more susceptible to injury during this period of their lives.

Some of the physical differences between players who were born in the same year are incredible.

“We found players at U14 level who were at 100% of their adult height. In other words, they looked very physically developed, because they were, but they weren’t growing anymore. Then we had players who were 85% of their adult height, so they had a huge development ahead of them.

"We had one player who was 40kg and another was 95kg - at the same age group. You’re into a ‘men versus boys’ scenario."

“We found that in some of the squads there was five or six years of a difference in some of the players, biologically speaking. That’s a huge gap. Biological age is probably a more accurate age to rate players on than their chronological age. Your date of birth means nothing really at that point of your life.

“So, who’s actually benefitting from the age groupings?” he asks. “Is it the early maturing players or the late maturing players? Ultimately, it seems to be neither of them.”


One alternative to the traditional age groupings is a practice called bio-banding. This entails arranging players based on their biological age, so that early maturing players are placed with early maturing players and so on. The method has been embraced by clubs in the Premier League and New Zealand Rugby amongst others. Under Fitzgerald’s guidance, Kerry GAA have also implemented it in their development squads, albeit as an “adjunct tool” rather than as standard practice.

“I learned everything I know about bio-banding from the Premier League,” the Killarney native says. “The likes of Paudie Roche over at Arsenal and people at Southampton and Bournemouth gave me an insight into how clubs do it over there. They might have one week every month where they do bio-banding.

“What we did with Kerry was we trained away normally for a while and we tracked their maturation. Then we matched players in training, and then later in games, based on their maturity. We had Kerry South and Kerry North development squads and there were two different teams: an early maturing team and an on-time maturing team.

“They played in training and small sided games against each other, and then they played a full 15-a-side game."

The results of this experiment were informative to say the least.

“The early maturing guys who would normally be able to go through the centre and use their physical strength, they struggled an awful lot. From a skill execution point of view, they found it difficult because they were all at the same physical level. The team play wasn’t as good or as cohesive because they’re used to playing more individually.

“On the other hand, the on-time maturing players, they found it brilliant. Normally they might be playing in the corner, not getting much ball, and when they do get the ball they can’t take on their man because he’s bigger than they are. The skill levels were quite high in this game with a lot more interplay.

“The coaches also found that this game was relatively noisy because these players normally don’t take up leadership roles, maybe because they have less of an impact due to their size. They were suddenly talking more so it seemed to have a positive effect on their confidence.

“Both sets of players found it to be a positive experience. The early maturing players found it to be a big step-up in standard and the pace of the game was fast. They got exposed to a different challenge, a more appropriate one.

“The coaches loved it because they saw players in a different light. They saw players who they thought were excelling, struggle when they were put into a mature-appropriate environment. And they saw less mature players getting a chance to shine. It gave them a different slant on their players.

“Grouping players based on their age is flawed, but it’s not to say that we don’t do it either. It’s not practical at all to say, ‘let’s scrap the age groups’. But it is useful to coaches and parents to understand what really goes on.”


Fitzgerald’s work has attracted interest from the GAA at a national level. Croke Park have been in contact with a view to experimenting with bio-banding in other counties during the summer.

“It’s not like we’re replacing the chronological age groupings but maybe once a month squads might do bio-banded training sessions or games. Or they might play bio-banded matches once or twice a year to give the players a different challenge.

“It's an appropriate tool to magnify the effect of maturation. A couple of counties who are starting to embed practices around growth maturation might look at playing some challenge games against one another to scale it up a little bit. Rather than it just being done in Kerry, maybe they’ll get to play another county. Cork is another county where we got a lot of our maturation data last year.”

Over the course of his research, Fitzgerald, who recently launched a new youth athletic development programme called the Kaipara Academy, has seen a similar trend across the board.

“We found the same thing in GAA development squads, in Irish soccer and at Premier League clubs: their talent systems are dominated by early maturing players. In Kerry, there was only one late maturing player out of 180 in the whole system. And that particular player was Messi-like. In other words, if you’re late maturing, you have to be something special.

“That’s the issue with the effect of maturation. Potentially there are players who may be less skilful but their physical prowess is skewing their performance. Equally there might be players who have lots of potential but because they won’t mature physically until later, they get overlooked.

“This is not just a problem at county level, it’s also a problem at grassroots level. More research needs to be done here but it’s quite notable everywhere you look.

“This year we will also be exploring maturation in female athletes. What happens around the growth spurt for males and females is quite different so we need to examine that and see if there's a correlation.”

When I put it to him that arming GAA coaches with all this information could radically change the type of player being produced at county level, Fitzgerald is unequivocal in his response:


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Kingdom hoping to lay some old ghosts to rest at Páirc Uí Chaoimh



by Adam Moynihan

All-Ireland SFC Group 1

Cork v Kerry

Saturday at 3pm

Páirc Uí Chaoimh

I was one of the unlucky few to have been present at the last Cork-Kerry clash in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in November of 2020. It was a truly awful night.

The match was played behind closed doors which made for an eerie, unsettling atmosphere, and the rain came down harder than I ever remember seeing first-hand.

Unfortunately, Kerry came down hard too. Mark Keane’s last-ditch goal clinched an unexpected victory for the hosts and, just like that, Kerry’s year was over.

It always hurts when your team loses but that one completely floored us all. It was such a horrible way to lose a game and I felt so bad for the players as they trudged off the field, soaked to the bone and shaken to the core.

They got some form of payback the following year when they won by 21 in the Munster final, and again last year when they ran out 11-point winners in the semi-final. But something tells me that it would mean a lot more to return to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and do the business there.

It won’t be easy. The final scorelines in the last two games suggest that it was all one-way traffic but that simply wasn’t the case. In 2021, Cork led by 1-5 to 0-4 at the water break (remember those?) and they pushed Kerry hard 12 months ago too. There was nothing in that match right up until the 50th minute, at which point Kerry brought on David Moran and Paul Geaney and ultimately pulled away.

You can never really read too much into the McGrath Cup but Cork demolished Kerry in January. Their form since has been spotty but they did well to see off Louth last week, with the returning Brian Hurley (shoulder) kicking eight points in a two-point win. Hurley has proved to be a handful for Kerry full back Jason Foley in the past.

Significantly, John Cleary’s side are strong in a key area where Kerry struggled against Mayo: midfield. Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan scored 0-2 each in Navan (and the latter scored 2-4 in that aforementioned McGrath Cup game at the start of the year).

Jack O’Connor named his team last night with Adrian Spillane replacing Tony Brosnan and Paul Murphy coming in for Dylan Casey. Spillane will add some extra brawn and energy around the middle third. Going by the last outing, Kerry need it.

It is also worth noting that David Clifford has never really shot the lights out against Cork. He has been well minded by Maurice Shanley, Seán Meehan and Kevin Flahive in the past three championship meetings, with the retreating Seán Powter also getting stuck in when needed.

Flahive suffered a cruciate injury late in last year’s game but he could potentially be in line for a comeback tomorrow; he has been added to Cork’s 26 for the first time in over 12 months.

Meehan has been ruled out with a hamstring injury so Shanley may be asked to track the Footballer of the Year this time around.

Clifford was one of the few bright sparks against Mayo and he would love to bring that form to the Páirc on Saturday. With vital points on the line, there would be no better time to lay some ghosts to rest.

From a Kerry perspective, you would hope – and perhaps expect – that Clifford and his teammates can do exactly that and get the show back on the road.


1. Shane Ryan

2. Graham O’Sullivan

3. Jason Foley

4. Tom O’Sullivan

5. Paul Murphy

6. Tadhg Morley

7. Gavin White

8. Diarmuid O’Connor

9. Jack Barry

10. Dara Moynihan

11. Seánie O’Shea

12. Adrian Spillane

13. Paudie Clifford

14. David Clifford

15. Paul Geaney

Subs: S Murphy, T Brosnan, D Casey, BD O’Sullivan, R Murphy, M Burns, M Breen, S O’Brien, D O’Sullivan, C O’Donoghue, S O’Brien.


1. Micheál Aodh Martin

2. Maurice Shanley

3. Rory Maguire

4. Kevin O’Donovan

5. Luke Fahy

6. Daniel O’Mahony

7. Matty Taylor

8. Colm O’Callaghan

9. Ian Maguire

10. Brian O’Driscoll

11. Ruairí Deane

12. Killian O’Hanlon

13. Seán Powter

14. Brian Hurley

15. Chris Óg Jones

Subs: P Doyle, C Kiely, T Clancy, K Flahive, P Walsh, E McSweeney, B Murphy, J O’Rourke , M Cronin, S Sherlock, F Herlihy.

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Is Killarney green or blue? Celtic and Athletic to face off in tonight’s league final



Kerry Premier A League Final

Killarney Celtic v Killarney Athletic

Tonight at 7.45pm

Mounthawk Park, Tralee

Killarney Celtic will be gunning for their fifth league title in a row tonight (Friday) when they take on crosstown rivals Killarney Athletic in Tralee.

Celtic have been the dominant force in Kerry soccer in recent times with Athletic playing second fiddle. This will be the third Premier A final in a row to be contested by the Killarney clubs; Celtic won the 2020 decider 4-0 and last year’s final ended in a 3-0 victory for the club from Derreen. (The 2020/21 season was scrapped due to the pandemic.)

Prior to that, Celtic defeated Castleisland in 2019 and Dingle Bay Rovers in 2018, both on a scoreline of 1-0.

Celtic and Athletic also met in the 2017 final. The Blues prevailed in that particular encounter to capture their first ever Premier A title.

As for this season, Neilus Hayes’ Hoops qualified for the final by virtue of their first-place finish in the Premier A. Despite losing key players – including attackers Ryan Kelliher, Stephen McCarthy and Trpimir Vrljicak – to the Kerry FC project, the Celts won 12 of their 14 matches and ended up with an imposing goal difference of +34.

Athletic were not far behind, however; Stuart Templeman’s team only lost one league game all season en route to 35 points – one behind Celtic and 11 clear of Castleisland in third.

Interestingly, both of Celtic’s losses came at the hands of Athletic. The Woodlawn outfit impressively beat the old enemy 3-2 and 0-1 over the course of the regular season.

Goals by Roko Rujevcan, Pedja Glumcevic and a 90th-minute winner by Brendan Moloney clinched that dramatic 3-2 win in October of last year. It was a result that signalled Athletic’s intentions for the rest of the season.

Rujevcan was also on the scoresheet when Athletic snatched a rare away win at Celtic Park on April 30.

Celtic’s imposing record in finals probably makes them slight favourites and in the likes of John McDonagh, Brendan Falvey, Wayne Sparling, Kevin O’Sullivan and Witness Odirile they have a potent mix of steel and skill.

But Athletic will take heart from their recent results in this fixture and they will be hoping that two of the stars from the 2017 team – Shane Doolan and Shane Lynch – can lead the current crop of players to glory.

Meanwhile, the Division 2B final between Killarney Athletic B and Atletico Ardfert that was also due to take place tonight has been cancelled. Athletic have received a walkover.


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