Giddiness and anticipation are the feelings that traditionally fill the air on day one of pre-season and this year was no different. Despite the fact that training officially drew to a close only four weeks ago and that many of us have spent time with one another in the interim period, there is a strong sense of reunion every time we come together to begin another 48 week period of life in professional rugby.
Eighteen players proved themselves good enough in the past year to be rewarded with places on various international tours. Eight were selected to tour Argentina, with ten earning spots on Emerging Ireland's squad for the Nations Cup in Bucharest. As a result, our numbers will be quite depleted for the first couple of weeks of the summer. This period gives members of the academy and sub-academy the opportunity to experience the rigours of a fully professional pre-season, while simultaneously giving senior players the ability to get a head start on those who have toured and to become as conditioned as possible by the time the competitive season begins in September.
Being about halfway through a period of recovery from a shoulder stabilisation which I underwent in early May, I find myself working off a significantly modified training schedule. Along with Peter O' Mahony, who is recovering from two similar procedures, the injured group for week one included Barry O' Mahony and Dave O' Callaghan. A common misconception seems to surround people's understanding of what it means to be injured as a professional athlete. "It must be nice to have a bit of time off" and "At least you get a bit of a break for a while" are some fairly typical comments when you inform friends and strangers alike that you are facing into a lengthy lay-off. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Every professional player loves doing one thing more than anything else - playing. When your ability to do so is taken away from you temporarily, it is not an easy adjustment to make. Players are willing to exhaust every avenue available to them in the hope of shaving weeks, even days, off their projected recovery time. As a result, weeks as an injured player can often be more demanding both physically and mentally than when one is fully fit.
Observing the traditional Strength and Conditioning activities of week one from a distance can be extremely frustrating. Fitness, speed and strength testing all give benchmarks which every player is eager to set for themselves at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Being injured can provide certain opportunities which would otherwise not be present. Engaging in resistance training five times a week and targeted conditioning three times a week are two good examples of this. It is essential to focus on the positives during this period in order to keep motivation high and anxiety low.
Overall, everyone is looking forward to reaping the rewards of what has been a highly anticipated first pre-season under new Head of S&C Adam Trypas, who took over the reins in January. I look forward to keeping you informed about our progress.