David McMillan's Dundalk diary: From Russia with gloves
As Dundalk mix their European odyssey with a quest for another domestic double, David McMillan has kept a diary of their unique build-up to tomorrow's FAI Cup final
Published 05/11/2016 | 02:30
Monday - Halloween was a little different this year, with no costumes or trick or treating! We spent much of bank holiday Monday in Dundalk, training, doing media duties and collecting our cup final suits.
This year's final build-up has been a little different with a trip to Russia to be factored in after an unprecedented busy schedule on three fronts.
My 'car school' - myself, Sean Gannon, Ciaran Kilduff and Ronan Finn - along with Brian Gartland were picked for media duties.
We arrived around 11.30am, had some photos taken and did a mixed zone of interviews with all of the journalists looking ahead to the final against Cork, while Stephen Kenny and Daryl Horgan did a more formal press conference.
It was a little strange to be looking ahead to the final three days before another massive game in Russia, but there was no other option.
After that, we headed into the town for some lunch - chicken wraps and salads etc - and we were back at Oriel at 2.0 to train. It was our typical session for three days before a game.
Graham Byrne, our S&C coach, took the warm-up and some 'quick feet' before we worked on some 11 v 11 team shape for how we were going to play in Russia, and also how the coaching staff thought they would play against us.
We ate again after training - chicken and rice is our usual post-training snack. We would usually do some video analysis but Stephen decided to leave that until we got to Russia as it had been a long day.
Next it was down to Tony McDonnell Menswear in Dundalk to collect our suits. We tried them on to make sure everything was okay and we all looked the part!
A night in front of the TV followed, watching Halloween movies before an early night.
We met in Dublin Airport at 9.15 for our scheduled 11am departure. Omelettes and tea were on the breakfast menu from 'The Hatch' before we found out that there would be a "brief delay" to our flight. That turned into five hours.
We eventually took off at 4pm Irish time. We arrived in St Petersburg at 11pm Russian time and went straight to the hotel which was right next to Palace Square, in the middle of the city.
We had dinner and then did some video work. It quite late at that stage but myself, Garts (Brian Gartland), Ganno (Sean Gannon) and Killer (Ciaran Kilduff) took stroll into Palace Square just to get some air into the lungs after a long day in the airport, on the plane and in the hotel.
Sleep awaited and in fairness the club spared no expense on a lovely hotel with top-class food.
With all travelling, breakfast wasn't until 11.0. I went back to bed for another couple of hours after breakfast as Tuesday had been a long day and I was tired.
Lunch was at 2.0, followed by a stroll for a couple of hours with Garts. We just went out and about around the city and had a good look around the Church Of The Saviour Of Blood which is one of the main tourist attractions here. It's a really cool church. We were well wrapped up as it was -1 degrees!
I did a five-minute 'live' Facebook interview with Eir Sport just after lunch, mainly about Daryl Horgan (pictured) and Andy Boyle's call-ups to the Ireland squad. It was big news around the camp. The lads themselves were probably told in advance by Stephen, but we just found out like everyone else via Twitter. We all congratulated the boys. It's fully deserved and hopefully they make the plane to Austria.
My mam and dad had been to Iceland and Holland for previous games but didn't travel for this one.
It was back to the dining room for snacks at about 5.30 before getting ready to head to the stadium for training around 7.0.
UEFA rules state the opposition team can train on the pitch for only 60 minutes the night before the game so we just had our normal type of session - warm-up, passing and finishing and then a very small bit of shape and set-pieces as you never know who might be watching!
The conditions were difficult at first. There was snow on the pitch and we all were wearing leggings and under-armour - as well as hats, gloves, snoods - but Stephen reminded up before the session that we wouldn't be able to wear any of those during the game so after the warm-up, I took the hat off to get used to the conditions. My feet were freezing cold and my ears too!
At the pre-match press conference, Stephen was asked about having a architect in the squad. A lot of the foreign journalists are fascinated that we are not a full-time team and that some of us have jobs outside of football.
Stephen's answer was pretty funny. He said he wanted me to focus on my football and help score the goals to finance a new stadium in Dundalk!
The foreign media may think we are minnows who are paid for only 40 or 42 weeks of the year. People expected us to finish bottom of the group, but I think the Zenit players fully respect us and what we can do, especially after how well we played in the first game.
More video analysis and some clips on set-pieces followed dinner back at the hotel before a little stroll to the shop. After that, it was Champions League highlights on the TV and bed.
Thursday (match day)
Our usual 11.0 breakfast was followed by a nap to rest the legs and then we met up for some snacks at 2.0. After that, I had a shower and a walk into the city with Dane Massey and Alan Keane to stretch the legs and get used to the cold again.
We had a coffee in a local Irish bar. One of the good things about the trips abroad is that we're trusted to go off on our own for an hour or two, rather than be stuck in hotels from morning until night. You hear of lots about managers confining their players to hotels, but we are given a little bit of time to grab a coffee etc, which is good.
We came back for to the hotel for our pre-match meal at 5.30 and then had our team meeting at 6.15. Stephen spoke about the importance of sticking together as a team and what our plan was.
We arrived at the stadium at 7.30, with kick-off at 9.0 Russian time. It was a near sell-out of 18,000 and at that stage, walking on the pitch beforehand, I knew I was starting and was really excited to be playing in another big European game.
I was disappointed in my own performance and we were disappointed to lose, conceding late on. It was a great goal by Daryl on the counter-attack, showing that pace he's shown all season and we really thought we could get something out of the game.
Having done our cool-down, showered and post-match media, we headed back to the hotel. It was after midnight by this stage. I had another stroll with Garts to clear our heads and then it was off to bed.
After breakfast, we went to another hotel close-by which had a gym and a swimming pool and we did our usual recovery session there plus a small bit in the gym.
The place had a beautiful spa so we had a Jacuzzi and a plunge into the dreaded ice baths before heading to the airport.
The flight home was fine, bar the never-ending discussions about who is the best FIFA player on the team, which seems to be a topic on every trip. The O'Connor brothers are constantly fighting over who is the best. I try to stay out of it.
After landing, we all headed to our own houses to spend the night at home before meeting up at 2.0 on Saturday in Malahide. It's the same plan as last year's cup final weekend. We'll train in Gannon Park and stay in the Portmarnock Golf Links Hotel.
I'm not totally sure of the plan for Sunday just yet as we've been fully focused on Zenit up until last night. We have to quickly change our focus now.
Everyone will be excited about the cup final but there will be a nervous wait to find out who is in the team.
Last year it was a tight call between myself and Ciaran Kilduff for who would start up front. I got the nod but Killer came on the played a massive part and we both know that we'll have a big job as the two strikers and it could be either of us getting the winner.
After the final, it will be back to normality before the next Europa League game.
Obviously I had to take this week off work and I've taken Monday off as well.
It's not ideal as I like to be in work as much as I can with my commitment to doing 20 hours per week.
I'm not going to reach that this week, but the lads in the office have been very good and are always wishing me luck and watching the games.
Once the cup final is over I'll be able to get back to work as normal on Tuesday, hopefully with another FAI Cup medal to show for our efforts.
In conversation with Jamie Moore