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"No stone left unturned" as Ipswich Town embrace sports science for Paul Hurst era

PUBLISHED: 06:00 07 June 2018

Andre Dozzell is on his way back to full fitness. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA

Andre Dozzell is on his way back to full fitness. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA

Ipswich Town will be using the latest scientific research in 2018/19. STUART WATSON spoke to the man who will be heading that up - Lee O'Neill.

Lee O'Neill is helping lay the foundations for success at Town using sports science. Picture: ARCHANTLee O'Neill is helping lay the foundations for success at Town using sports science. Picture: ARCHANT

Paul Hurst was proactive in the use of sports science at Shrewsbury Town, with the Shropshire outfit considered to be one of the fittest sides in League One despite having one of the smallest squads.

That was another major box ticked for Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans when recruiting his new manager as the Blues look to create a backroom set-up to rival the best Premier League clubs.

“It’s a new era and a key part of my vision for the club moving forwards is to create an innovative and modern culture in the way we operate at the training ground in the development of players and coaching staff,” said Evans.

- MORE: Bialkowski on Hurst - ‘I’m looking forward to working with him’

“We already have a good foundation in place and now we want to take the best of what we have and enhance it.

“As we have always done in the past, the manager will have full authority in the running of the football side of the club and he will be ably supported by (new assistant) Chris Doig and existing staff covering coaching, sports science, medical, fitness and recruitment.

“Sports science is becoming an increasingly important area of the weaponry at clubs and we are making great strides forward in this area and that will continue.

“Lee O’Neill (academy manager) will head up this department and will be supported by a soon to be appointed first-team sports scientist and fitness coach, ensuring we transfer best practice in fitness and medical across all squads with a goal to significantly increase availability for minutes on the pitch for all players.”

Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans. Picture: IPSWICH TOWN YOUTUBEIpswich Town owner Marcus Evans. Picture: IPSWICH TOWN YOUTUBE

O’Neill, speaking to the EADT and Ipswich Star, said: “Investment in the academy under EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) has allowed us to recruit specialists for various different things – sports science, performance analysis, physiotherapy, medicine, nutrition, psychology, strength and conditioning in recent times.

“And we’ve been working closely with Suffolk University for the last five years, developing a really good relationship with Dr Gavin Devereux who is a leader in sports science.

“What that’s enabled us to do is be at the forefront of research – both academically and applied work – and to be able to access some advanced technology including things like bio-chemistry. We will be doing saliva, hormone and cortisol tests.

“We will be monitoring players closely through training and games using GPS techniques. We will also be in a position to step up our observation of players’ well-being, looking for signs of fatigue, nutritional needs, making sure their sleep patterns are right.”

He continued: “It’s important to stress that this is there as a support to the coaches. How the manager uses all this data will be his prerogative. It’s about leaving no stone unturned though and giving him every tool possible.

“The manager might think ‘he didn’t look quite right today’ and then come to us to see if there is a change in the usual patterns of data.

“Football is developing and becoming more scientific, but it shouldn’t take over. Ultimately coaching must lead things. We are just trying to give them the best chance to make informed decisions.

- MORE: Paul Hurst’s in-tray

Emyr Huws missed much of last season with injury. Picture: ARCHANTEmyr Huws missed much of last season with injury. Picture: ARCHANT

“Bryan (Klug) has a saying ‘it’s on tap, not on top’. It’s there and if the manager wants to use it then great. If not – and he wants to rely on his experience and own eyes – then that’s what will happen.”

Ipswich had a crippling injury list last season, with the likes of Emyr Huws, Teddy Bishop, David McGoldrick, Tom Adeyemi and Andre Dozzell all long-term absentees.

“Injuries are part of football, it’s a contact sport,and they will always happen, but we can put things in place, hopefully, that will help prevent some of the avoidable ones in the future,” said O’Neill.

“Ultimately, it’s about us giving the manager and the players the best possible chance to perform.”

Meanwhile, on Town’s plans for a greater crossover between first team and academy roles, O’Neill explained: “If Paul’s philosophy is about intensity and energy then that might translate to the Under-23s and Under-18s to better prepare them for the first team.

“Chris Hogg and Gerard Nash will be involved with the first team as well as the Under-23s, while Paul Hurst will be involved with the younger age groups as much as possible.

“We want there to be a clear pathway for coaches to progress here. The next manager of Ipswich Town could be in the building right now.

“To give two lads (Nash and Hogg) the opportunity to coach in the Championship at their age and lack of experience is probably unheard of, but it happened. They enjoyed themselves, did well and will be given more opportunity to continue learning.”

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