TG4’s legendary GAA ‘Underdogs’ series kicks off at AIT

After a decade-long hiatus, TG4’s popular ‘Underdogs’ series famed for uncovering GAA footballing talent, is back on our television screens. With the mission of finding club players with enough drive, skill and passion to take on a county team firmly in its crosshairs, TG4 enlisted the help of Dr David Kelly, a lecturer in Exercise Science at Athlone Institute of Technology.

“GAA has moved on quite a bit since the Underdogs last aired so TG4 reached out to us here at Athlone Institute of Technology to see if we’d be able to carry out some scientific testing for each of the players to determine their fitness level. We have state-of-the-art facilities on campus, so this coupled with my own expertise as a lecturer in Exercise Science and my background in GAA, made it a natural fit,” Dr Kelly said.

This week’s episode will see Dr Kelly and his colleagues Dr Niamh Whelan and Dr Kris Beattie, supported by a team of postgraduate researchers, put the Underdogs through their paces with a battery of baseline tests.

“We identified a series of field and lab tests most applicable to the needs of Gaelic football, paying particular attention to power, strength and speed. We also looked at anthropometric data like weight, height and body fat percentage. Collectively, this gave us an idea of each players’ standing in relation to the other Underdogs footballer but also club and intercounty players,” the former Sligo GAA footballer said.

The players’ aerobic capacity was also measured using a special VO2max test, the gold standard measurement of aerobic capacity. Certain footballers also underwent an Opto Jump test which uses an infra-red beam to gather precise data about the subject’s performance.

The baseline testing was carried out in Athlone Institute of Technology’s extensive sporting facilities namely its state-of-the-art high-performance gym and sports science lab. The institute’s grass pitch, astroturf pitch, elite performance gym and indoor track were also made available to the Underdogs throughout their weekend-long training camp.

Following the baseline testing results, Dr Kelly and his team designed a tailormade strength and body conditioning programme for each of the players. The AIT sports science team are currently working with TG4 to organise a retest for the athletes at the end of the season to determine the difference in performance at the beginning and end of the show.

Will all the testing and training be enough to prepare the Underdogs for their first ever challenge match against one of the most successful Roscommon clubs ever, St. Brigids GAA? You’ll have to tune in tomorrow night at 09:30 pm on TG4 to find out.

Athlone Institute of Technology has long been renowned for producing some of the country’s finest athletes and sports scientists. The institute boasts a state-of-the-art International Arena and a sports science testing laboratory that is availed of by students and professional athletes alike. Budding sports scientists can choose from an array of specialised courses including a BSc (Hons) in Athletic and Sport Rehabilitation, a BSc (Hons) in Health Science with Nutrition and a BSc (Hons) Sports Science and Exercise Physiology. For the full list of sports courses on offer at Athlone Institute of Technology click here.

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