Fergus Connolly is Performance and Operations Director with the University of Michigan football programme, currently on a flying visit home to Scotstown, Co. Monaghan.
He has formerly worked with Liverpool FC, the Wales national rugby team, San Francisco 49ers and Jim Gavin’s Dublin setup. He called into studio for a chat on OTB AM this morning and here are some of the takeaways.
1. “GAA elitism will be to the detriment of Irish society”
The ‘crossroads’ that the GAA is hurtling towards is a big concern for Connolly, despite the fact that he works in elite sport, and reckons the enrichment of the wealthy poses a threat to a key component of Ireland’s society.
“It is not and should not be an elite sport,” says Connolly. “We always assume the NFL or the NBA is where we should go. Well it’s not quite. It shouldn’t be.
“If it just feeds elitism, then it will end up just like rugby is in the UK... ‘What is the role of ‘gaelic games in Ireland?’ is the question - not how much money can it make.”
2. The GPA can do more to finance and support players
Addressing the annual issue of player ‘burnout’, Connolly points out the most pressing issues that can be fixed.
The overarching point he makes is that education needs to get better, especially when it comes to coaching top-level teams. Connolly believes the reason GAA players are suffering from overuse is because of training volume, not because of the amount of matches on the schedule.
Of the winter fixture pile-ups, he says “If it was properly planned, you could probably play all those games - you just can’t do the training.”
The GPA should be doing more to facilitate this, he points out. “The GPA have a lot of money,” says Connolly, who reckons they have the capabilities to support the players.
Overall, Connolly is calling for “both legislation and education”, saying that the latter is as important as having winter bans.
3. He doesn’t hate Mayo
“I’d love to see Mayo win an All-Ireland”
“I can’t wait until Mayo win the All-Ireland”
Those are two quotes from Fergus Connolly this morning, who makes it pretty clear that he’s got no grudge against the county.
He does, however, raise the issue of respect once again. In an interview with Paul Kimmage last year, Connolly told the story of a Mayo coach who queried to Connolly and his Dublin colleagues “how are your stats looking now, boys?” at half-time of a league final that Mayo were - at the time - leading.
“A coach was making smart comments to a stats intern... I was stunned” Connolly told OTB AM this morning. “I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t be a bit more humble or cautious or respectful, even.
“In order to be successful, you have to have that humility... you have to look after your own teammates and give credit to the team as a whole”
4. He’s not surprised by the Kaepernick situation
At the San Francisco 49ers, Connolly get an insight into the persona of Colin Kaepernick, before the beginning of his anthem protest against police brutality in the United States.
Connolly isn’t surprised that Kaepernick hasn’t been rescued from his exile yet, but does think he will be back, saying “very few people I’ve seen work as hard as him.”
Connolly also says he’s never been around anyone as polite as Kaepernick, who spoke to janitors at the 49ers like he would speak to the head coach.
5. He backs Harbaugh over Gavin in a clutch situation
We ask the tough questions on OTB AM. This morning, we asked Connolly this one:
Who would you put your last tenner on - a Jim Harbaugh team, one score behind in a super bowl with 2 minutes to play or a Jim Gavin team, one score behind with a minute to play in an All-Ireland final?
His answer? Jim Harbaugh.
You can listen back in full in podcast form: