Research Article: The match-play sprint performance of elite senior hurlers during competitive games

Date Published: April 24, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Damien Young, Giuseppe Coratella, Shane Malone, Kieran Collins, Laurent Mourot, Marco Beato, Luca Paolo Ardigò.


The typical sprint profile in elite hurling has yet to be established. The purpose of this study was to investigate the sprinting demands of elite hurling competition and characterize the sprinting patterns of different playing positions. GPS (10-Hz, STATSports Viper) were used to collect data from 51 hurlers during 18 games. The total sprint (≥22 km·h-1) distance (TSD), the number of sprints (NOS) classified as length (<20 m, ≥20 m) and relative speed thresholds (<80%, 80–90%, >90%), the between-sprint duration and the number of repeated-sprint bouts (≥2 sprints in ≤60 s) were analyzed. The NOS was 22.2 ± 6.8 accumulating 415 ± 140 m TSD. The NOS <20 m, ≥20 m was 14.0 ± 4.7 and 8.1 ± 3.6 respectively. The NOS <80%, 80–90% and >90% was 10.6 ± 4.3, 8.2 ± 3.6, 3.4 ± 2.4 respectively. The between-sprint duration and the repeated-sprint bouts were 208 ± 86 s and 4.5 ± 2.6 respectively. TSD (ES = -0.20), NOS (ES = -0.34), NOS <20 m (ES = -0.33), ≥20 m (ES = -0.24), 80–90% (ES = -0.35) >90% (ES = -0.13) and repeated-sprint bouts (ES = -0.28) decreased between-halves. Full-backs performed a lower NOS <80% than half-backs (ES = -0.66) and a shorter mean duration of sprints than half-backs (ES = -0.75), midfielders (ES = -1.00) and full-forwards (ES = -0.59). These findings provide a sprint profile of elite hurling match-play that coaches should consider to replicate the sprint demands of competition in training.

Partial Text

Hurling is a field-based stick and ball invasion-type team sport native to Ireland, which is played between two opposing teams of 15 players. The aim of the game is to outscore the opposition by striking the ball between the opposition’s goal posts [1], over the crossbar (1 point) or between and under the crossbar (3 points) [2,3]. The playing positions consist of 1 goalkeeper and 14 outfield players (full-backs, half-backs, midfielders, half-forwards, and full-forwards) who compete on a playing pitch which is 140 m long and 88 m wide over a duration of 70 minutes (min) (two 35-min halves) [2,3]. In each positional line, there is a convention of player-to-player marking, where the attackers’ role is to invade the defenders’ area and score. The defenders are tasked with preventing the attackers from scoring, while the midfielders act as a link between attack and defense [1,2]. Elite senior hurlers compete for National hurling League, Provincial and All-Ireland championships [1].

The descriptive statistics for total sprint distance, peak speed, the total number of sprints, the number of sprints per distance- and speed-category, the mean length of sprint, mean sprint duration, the duration between sprints and the number of repeated-sprint bouts for the total game and per half are presented in Table 1. The players’ mean peak speed recorded in the 40 m sprint test was 31.5 ± 1.5 km·h-1. The total sprint distance accounted for 5% of the overall TD covered during games. Senior hurlers’ length of sprint ranged from the shortest distance of 7 m to the longest distance 33 m.

The current study aimed to describe the sprint analysis of elite male senior hurling match-play across halves of play and between positions. As hypothesized, there was a decrease in sprint analysis metrics in the second half for most but not all metrics. Even though the differences were trivial-to-small, the total sprint distance, the total number of sprints, the number of sprints < 20 m and ≥ 20 m, the number of sprints < 80% and > 90% and the repeated-sprint bouts were lower (p < 0.05) in the second half. In contrast, the mean length of sprint (small), the duration of sprint (small) and the duration between sprints (trivial) increased in the second half (p < 0.05). There were positional differences in the mean sprint duration during the full game. Full-backs had a shorter duration of sprints compared to half-backs, midfielders and full-forwards (p < 0.05). Furthermore, full-backs performed a lower number of sprints < 80% compared to half-backs (p < 0.05). Some positions experienced small decreases in the number of sprints (midfielders and half-forwards), number of sprints < 20 m (half-backs), ≥ 20 m (half-forwards), mean sprint duration (half-backs and full-forwards), the duration between sprints (half-forwards), peak speed (midfielders), the number of sprints < 80% (half-forwards) and between 80–90% (midfielders) in the second half compared to the first. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, the current study was the first to examine the sprint analysis across halves of play and between positional lines during elite male senior hurling match-play. The present results have several important practical implications for coaches who are preparing players for the sprint demands of hurling. Firstly, given the present results coaches should focus on the sprint distance range of < 20 m where the number of sprints are most frequent. Therefore, coaches should set up activities with sufficient distance to allow players to reach sprint speeds (> 22 km·h-1) and then ensure that players can maintain this sprint speed for more than 10 m. With 33 m being the maximum length of sprint performed in this study, it seems illogical to practice sprint lengths excessively longer than this, as players during match-play were found to decelerate from the sprinting zone before this distance.