My PhD journey began with the Masters in Sports Performance programme which I completed in 2020. As part of the programme, I conducted my thesis under the supervision of Dr. Phil Kearney entitled Investigating attitudes to bilateral skill symmetry in elite Gaelic Football and the factors affecting bilateral development.
Due to my own background in GAA and coaching, this project title grabbed my attention from the outset, which is just as well, because a PhD is too arduous a process if that passion for the topic is not there. As this was the first study of its kind conducted in Gaelic Football, and due to our good working relationship, we both recognised the need for further research in this area. The structured PhD began in September 2021 with the formal title Developing two-sided players in Gaelic football as a means to understand laterality and plasticity in human motor performance. Thankfully, Dr. Ian Sherwin agreed to come on board as a second supervisor. I am certainly aware of how fortunate I am with my supervisory team, and this is not something I take for granted.
As with most Structured PhD candidates, the literature review came first. While I had a good head start on the existing literature from my Masters thesis, I still fell down rabbit holes which ended up costing me time. I learned the hard way that there is a big difference between what is interesting and what is relevant to the original research question. In hindsight, the research question should have been in block capitals beside my laptop; a warning of what not to do when conducting Database searches. Within the scope of the literature review, I found it best to record and screengrab every search, data and number of results. Transparency is key, both for meetings with your supervisors and for your methodology sections. Carefully file, detail and organise everything you do on your laptop. Again, I learned the hard way when seeking out files from a year previously. Four years is a long time and things can get lost very easily no matter how good we think our memories are.
Due to the fact we had hit the ground running via the Masters thesis, the literature review was conducted in parallel with Performance Analysis of male and female intercounty games. As such, there were two studies ongoing in Year One. This then morphed into a third study in late Spring of Year One due to the need to justify our Mathematical Methodology in the Performance Analysis part. No matter how well planned your PhD is, with Gantt Charts and the like, flexibility and adaptability will be needed. The ‘schedule’ may seem like it is coming apart, but the research detours can be where the valuable knowledge can be acquired, and the existing research supplemented.
In the middle of this work in the spring I was fortunate to be awarded Irish Research Council funding for the next three years – giving me the freedom to focus exclusively on my research. Also around this time the R (Dr. Phil Kearney, Dr. Ian Sherwin and Dr. Paul Kinnerk) had the Masters paper published in the Journal of Motor Learning and Development.
Year two has been about embracing the necessary core modules, it has also been about challenging myself with respect to the elective modules. I saw these elective modules as being a fantastic opportunity to upskill in Maths, Statistics and R Coding, as I feel these areas will benefit me in Year Three and Four of my research. There has been far more academic writing in Year two and while this is challenging, it is certainly one of those things that can only be improved through experience and learning the hard way.
As part of the Irish Research Council funding, I am due to attend a number of conferences over the three years. While I presented at PEPAYS in June of 2022, my first non-Irish conference will be in May of this year at Expertise and Skill Acquisition Network in Manchester. These conferences are something I am really looking forward to attending in the coming two years because the area of skill acquisition is in an exciting exploratory phase right now.
Ultimately, the journey so far has been about embracing new challenges, detours in the research, and saying yes to new opportunities. I am very much aware of how fortunate I am to be conducting full time research on a topic I am so passionate about and to be doing it in such a vibrant place as PESS. I am also hugely excited with some of our findings so far and truly believe they will raise some eyebrows in the wider GAA community in the coming year.
Karol Dillon is a postgraduate researcher in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick.
Contact: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org @KarolDillon8 ResearchGate