Dr Craig Duncan - ACU Lecturer and Head Sport Scientist for Socceroos
An article published in the Sydney Morning Herald | Sport
Dr Craig Duncan: the brains behind Socceroos' fitness a bonus for burdened Wanderers. By Sebastian Hassett. 19 February 2015.
Fresh from overseeing Australia's much-lauded fitness during the Asian Cup, Dr Craig Duncan's exceptional year of success might help rub off on the Western Sydney Wanderers as they get set to endure a brutal stretch of matches.
Starting with a trip to Adelaide this Saturday night, the Wanderers face a stretch of 11 games in 35 days as their A-League campaign comes to a close and their Asian Champions League defence begins.
Soon after the Wanderers complete their match against the Reds, they resume their familiar habit of heading abroad, to Japan and an ACL date with Kashima Antlers.
Duncan has stepped back to being an external advisor to the Wanderers — former associate Adam Waterson is in charge of the day-to-day work — but he remains a trusted sounding board.
After being directly involved during their last ACL triumph, he was headhunted by the NSW Rugby League to oversee the player strength and conditioning for their State of Origin series, before returning to football at the behest of Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou for the Asian Cup. He was also named winner of the "Sport Scientist of the Year" award by Exercise and Sport Science Australia.
"It's been an incredible year and one that I'll probably never forget," he told Fairfax Media. "I've been very fortunate to work with some great people at different clubs and codes and it's been the thrill of a lifetime to play a part in some great success stories."
Duncan began focusing primarily on the Asian Cup last November and set about mapping a plan to have every player in contention for selection — not just those who made the final 23 — fit to fight the battle on home soil.
"We were able to implement a monitoring system for up to 50 players, to see how much training they were doing and their fatigue levels, all remotely from here," he said. "Once they were in camp, we had a good understanding of where they were at and then we had daily monitoring of those players. We knew how much sleep they had, how tired they were."
Postecoglou spoke regularly about the need to keep all players fresh heading into each match, a lesson learned the hard way at the World Cup and a riddle the Socceroos' sports science team needed to figure out.
"Once the tournament has started, you have to manage fatigue more than anything else and ensure it doesn't affect performance," he said.
"Physiological performance is somebody's fitness minus fatigue and our challenge was to avoid any major drop-off in performance as a result of players being overworked."
Duncan said the staff wanted to use the unrelenting Australian summer to their advantage in the lead-up to the Asian Cup. "We had players coming in from Europe and elsewhere and so we obviously had to get them acclimatised to the heat here," he said. "But training in the heat also has substantial benefits in aerobic power. Some teams use altitude for that but some others are using heat — and after about seven days, you can get a considerable benefit."
The time Duncan's work was put under the microscope came in extra time after 90 minutes of the final but the team came through with flying colours, running the South Korean side off their feet. "All our data going into that match was excellent.
Pre-tournament, we predicted there could be a natural drop-off, the result of playing six matches so close together," he said.
"But the coaching staff managed them so well and their energy hadn't fallen away. If anything, the data was flatlining — they weren't losing power, they were maintaining it."
Mathew Leckie and Massimo Luongo were two of the players Duncan was impressed by in terms of their athletic output.