It all started when J.P. Hartigan was studying Product Design and Technology at the University of Limerick in 2010, just before he had to cut his sports career short due to injuries.

After sustaining major injuries in both shoulders that kept him sidelined for two years, Hartigan was dealt a final blow to his sports career when he endured an injury to his back which forced the then 22-year-old Garryowen rugby player to retire at an early age.

However, he would later prove to have an even bigger impact in sports, especially on this side of the Atlantic, with an innovative design conceptualized in his final year thesis that identified a need for better on-field equipment in collision sports.

Hartigan noted that injury rates were on the rise in contact sports.

Yet somehow, the equipment being used in practices lagged behind in technology, making it difficult to practice tackling, especially with the renewed focus on reducing the number of player-on-player tackling drills over the last five years.

And so, “The Shadowman” was created.

Shadowman Pro and Shadowman Jr. are the first moveable and detachable tackling systems that allow football teams at every level to reduce player-on-player contact during practice, enhance player longevity and increase game speed reps.

Teams everywhere are turning to the products as a solution to the most vexing problem in football: How to cut down on player injuries and improve the safety in football.

Shadowman is an air-filled humanoid, filled with water at the base to give the “body” an optimized low center of gravity for tackling and displacement when coupled in the ring sled.  

Every last panel and contour are designed to give the tackler the best possible experience and feedback in the tackle.  

From the bent knee posture indicating front and back position on the system, to the white optimal strike zone and the three target zones to guide players on head and shoulder placement, every part of Shadowman was designed with intent and care.

The National Football League has enforced stricter guidelines on the type of contact permitted in practice as well as the elimination of “two-a-days” in training camp.

In addition, during the season, teams are only permitted 14 contact practices.

These are just a few examples of the protocol that the league has undergone in response to addressing a critical issue--player safety--in an effort to reduce long-term health effects that athletes sustain following careers in contact sports.

This has set a precedent for other football programs and organizations to follow.

In fact, the Ivy League took an extraordinary step in that movement to ban full-contact practices altogether earlier this year.

As a result, there has been a huge demand for Hartigan’s cutting edge product.

Over the last three years, there are more than 1,500 football programs from Pop Warner to the NFL as clients.

Currently, four NFL teams (New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers) and 70 NCAA Division 1 programs--including Notre Dame, Clemson, Oklahoma, Stanford, Louisville and Oregon--use The Shadowman in their team practices to reduce the amount of contact-related injuries in practice.

Shadowman recently became the official tackling equipment provider of Football Canada and has also partnered with USA Football, the national governing body for amateur American Football.

“The Shadowman is a dynamic tackling system that comes with three components – sled, harness, and the inflatable humanoid,” explained Hartigan, who founded Shadowman Sports in 2013.

“I tried to create a tackling tool that was as realistic as possible that was capable of movement and resistance with human representation while replicating in-game situations.”

Hartigan now resides in San Francisco and continues to work on new prototypes and products.

He is dedicated to creating innovative solutions that will lead to a better, smarter sports environment.

“Shadowman is addressing the issue of player welfare at every level of the game, by providing coaches and players with the only realistic tackling tool on the market, without the need to go player-on-player,” says Hartigan.

Moving forward, it is Hartigan’s mission to continue focusing on the football marketplace by introducing more innovative technology and drills that will enable teams to practice without experiencing the bruising effects of player-to-player contact.--

This article first appeared in the Irish Echo. For more, visit their website here.