Friday 24 March 2017

Sinead Kissane: Success never tasted better for history-makers

Ireland players Tadhg Furlong and Ultan Dillane celebrate victory after the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field
Ireland players Tadhg Furlong and Ultan Dillane celebrate victory after the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

After the Ireland players left the dressing-room for the second half of their game with New Zealand in Chicago last Saturday, it was time for the team's performance nutritionist Ruth Wood-Martin to go into the dressing-room to do her work.

Ruth, who's been working with the IRFU for 10 years, looked around to see if there was a TV so she could keep an eye on the game. But in Ireland's dressing-room at Soldier Field, there was no TV. Only a clock.

It takes Ruth around 36 minutes to do her prep work ahead of the players returning to the dressing-room. Last Saturday, she stuck to her routine of preparing post-match recovery shakes for the players.

She had ordered pizza from the stadium. Win or lose, the players were eating pizza in the dressing-room after the game because of its immediate convenience.

Ruth kept looking up at the clock as she did her work. 50 minutes. 65 minutes.

"What's happening?" she would ask masseur Willie Bennett or kit-man John Moran as they went in and out of the dressing-room as the clock ticked slowly towards full-time.

Three days previously, the Irish team were out for dinner in Chicago when the Cubs made history by winning the World Series.

Sitting among the staff was team services manager Nicola Lyons who has been working with the IRFU for 14 years and with the national senior team since 2009.

She had been following the Cubs' progression in the lead-up to their trip to America and, even though she knew Joe Schmidt and team manager Mick Kearney were aware of how well the Cubs were doing, she sent them a note before the trip reminding them of the impact it will have on the city if the Cubs win.

Since last November, Nicola and her team have been preparing for last week in Chicago; from organising the hotel, to the training pitch, to assessing the quality of the Wi-Fi in the hotel for players and coaches to do analysis on laptops, to organising a local bus driver to drive the team bus - Nicola and her colleague Sinead Bennett wanted someone who knew the roads in Chicago in the event they came across an accident or emergency and would need to take a different route.

"Joe (Schmidt) wants everything to be perfect. There are no excuses. You have to know your work," Nicola says. "We all want to be the best we can be and be the best for the team. Everyone is very adaptable."

And they had to be adaptable in Chicago last week.

The morning after the Cubs' victory, phone calls were made to the Irish Embassy in Chicago, the game organisers and the police to find out what was going to happen with the victory parade and the millions of fans who were expected in the city.

On Thursday they got confirmation that the Cubs victory parade would take place from mid-morning on Friday, around the same time that the Irish team were due to travel by bus from their team hotel, which was in the middle of the city, to Soldier Field.

After training, a quick decision was made to bring forward the Captain's Run from 11am to 9am on Friday.

Because of jet-lag, a lot of players were up around 6am in the team hotel anyway.

A police escort was organised to take the team bus on a private road alongside a train route which they had to get special permission to gain access to.

They took the road less travelled by in Chicago that Friday morning. It was a sign of things to come.

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For months Ruth had been liaising with the staff at Trump Towers about the food menu for the players. The magic ingredient last week in Chicago? Applewood smoked bacon, it seems.

"I suppose the biggest difference we had there was at breakfast. I would always put on lean bacon or rashers as an option. And their rashers were applewood smoked bacon which was what we would call streaky bacon.

"That's something I wouldn't generally have on because of its high fat content.

However, from the first morning you could smell it, it was extremely popular so I knew it was not worth my life to take it off and so it was left on all week," Ruth smiles.

Last Friday was an important day in Ruth's work with the team. Like the game-plan, when it comes to the food menu, everything has been tried and tested.

"You don't do anything different. The Friday is a fuelling-up day so it is a really important day that they eat well," Ruth explains.

Supper for the players last Friday which was a choice between chicken and beef with the usual carbohydrates and veg, was finished with a team tradition: apple crumble and custard. The cherry on top came the next day.

After finishing her work in the dressing-room, Ruth was back pitch-side to see the last five or six minutes of Ireland's win. How sweet the pizza must have tasted later.

Now that they've got a taste of what it's like to beat the All Blacks, they'll be back for more.

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