Making a difference

Thursday, 19 January 2017

FOR the likes of manager Kieran McGeeney, Charlie Vernon, Jamie Clarke, Aidan Forker and the rest of the Armagh panel the most important part of their week is matchday and doing the business on the field of play.

However, for Armagh GAA Performance Analyst Brian McClelland the most important time of his week is post-match and providing Kieran McGeeney with insightful and factual data from the game, just hours after the final whistle.

McClelland, who first became involved with the County setup in 2012 with the Armagh Minors, and since then he has gone on to become an integral part of Kieran McGeeney's backroom team.

After Armagh's recent trip to Owenbeg, just five hours after throw-in, Brian had compiled all of the statistics and analysed the match footage, before releasing the information to Kieran and his backroom staff at 10pm.

“It is only really after the game that my work start," enthused Brian.

“I am very fortunate to have a fantastic cameraman in Paul Heaney and he has some very sharp and great footage ready for me straight after the game.

“For an away game we will sit on the bus and prepare the video and for example after the McKenna Cup game at Derry, I had all the footage and stats compiled by 7pm and the management had it all three hours later.

“After that the players were then able to watch it and analyse it that evening or the following morning.

“We are now in an era where players almost expect it done and with them as soon as possible!"

Sports performance analysis and data management is now an integral part of elite sport and Brian explained some of the basic principles behind it.

“It is about looking at various indicators and events that happen in the game and tagging them when and where they happened.

“You can look at things like sequences of play like being in or out of possession, fouls, giving away frees and scoring opportunities.

“It is really up to the management what they want tagged or monitored.

“Post match you are then looking to reflect upon the video footage and the statistics and then look at what has happened, how we can improve or even prevent something happening again."

Brian records and tags all of the action on his laptop linked up to live footage of the game and it is a far cry from when he first started out with an iPod and a pen and a notepad.

He admitted that there are still plenty of hurdles for him to overcome to ensure that Kieran and his players receive data and footage that is accurate and concise.

“Unlike say rugby in the Pro 12 or football in England, you simply don't have the facilities to do performance analysis here.

“You watch a Pro 12 game and the camera pans round to the backroom team and they are surrounded by laptops and monitors.

“Only Croke Park has a room suitable for doing it and we have managed to bring things on a little at the Athletic Grounds to allow me to have a decent area to work in.

“When you go away to other grounds it can be a real challenge, but you have to be innovative and work with what you have."

Brian added that like the players he has to be 100% focused and ready for each game.

“You can't get caught up in the game or get emotionally attached. You have so many factors to deal with, maybe a bad vantage point, the noise of the crowd or even someone in the crowd distracting you.

“If I miss something then it can possibly skew the numbers and change how we analyse it post match."

More and more clubs in Gaelic Games have started to make strides into the world of performance analysis and Brian said that players are no longer shocked at seeing themselves on a screen following a game.

“It is almost becoming the norm in club football.

“Players are more interested in improving and seeing themselves in action on a screen isn't strange anymore.

“The large majority of clubs have someone record their games and having that sort of footage readily available really helps.

“With regards to the work we do with Kieran and the Armagh side, we do have team analysis sessions, but most of the time we are expecting the players to log on to their laptop or iPad and review the footage and statistics themselves.

“We are aware that the players have other commitments, they maybe work 9-5 and have family commitments, so whatever we give them has to be concise.

“They have a limited time frame to see the footage, but thankfully technology had advanced that much that it is so simple for them to sit down and look at it fairly easily."

Brian, who is studied Sports Studies at the University of Ulster and completed a Masters in Sports Performance Analysis at IT Carlow, has also been fortunate enough to work with one of Europe's leading sports performance analysis companies.

Newry based STATSports have undertook work for the likes of Manchester United, the Chicago Bulls and the Irish Rugby Football Union.

Brian took on an internship with the company from August 2015 to June 2016 and for seven months he worked closely with the Irish Rugby U20 side during the U20 Six Nations.

“I worked alongside the IRFU around this time last year ahead of the U20 Six Nations and while some of the players in that team aren't on professional contracts, it was a really professional setup and it gives you a real insight into that pathway and the world of professional rugby.

“I was down at Carton House a few times when the senior team were training beside the U20s and it was a fantastic opportunity to see how they operate.

“I was involved with the U20s throughout that Six Nations and unfortunately my internship ended just before the U20 World Cup where Ireland beat New Zealand in Manchester, but it was one of those things.

“One of the things I took away from my work with the IRFU was that in reality the GAA aren't a million miles away in terms of the performance analysis work that they are doing.

“They are both going through the exact same processes and the only difference I could see was the time constraints between the two."

Following his time with STATSports, Brian decided to set up his own sports performance analysis company and last August he started BMac Performance Analysis.

“Last August I decided to go out of my own and diversify and open up a few other avenues.

“I started working with a few local clubs and then I've worked with a few of the colleges once the new school year started.

“The work with the Armagh seniors take up most of my time, but I am looking to open up and work with other team sports like soccer, rugby and hockey.

“As I said earlier you have more and more teams getting their games recorded, but it is what you get out of the video footage.

“You have got to make better use of what you see and what you are given.

“You can analyse phases of attack or defence, how many frees you give away and where. It will help you identify trends and how you can improve them or stop themselves.

“If you stick to some simple principles and take a simple approach to it then it can add so much value to your footage."

Brian concluded by saying that the 'Moneyball' model is something that more and more sports are paying greater attention to.

“Club are now focusing on statistics and data more than ever and using them to determine a transfer policy or a style of play.

“Having data and information is so powerful for clubs now.

“As for looking to the future, I am stable in my current role, but being involved on a day to day basis with elite sport is where I want to be.

“I want to be somewhere where I can make a difference, but at the moment I am really happy and I am always on the outlook for new challenges and I am more than happy to speak with people or they can send me an email to"


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