Tuesday 20 March 2018

Ahead of the game... how Orla O'Reilly stays in peak shape

By following a strict training regime, and getting plenty of sleep, professional basketball player Orla O'Reilly stays in peak shape

Orla O'Reilly from Cork plays basketball for a club in Spain. Photo: Clare Keogh.
Orla O'Reilly from Cork plays basketball for a club in Spain. Photo: Clare Keogh.
Orla O'Reilly playing for Ireland against Spain in June during the 2015 European Games in Azerbaijan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Orla regularly has Greek yoghurt and fruit
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

After a relaxing summer holidays at home in her native Cork, Orla O'Reilly is back in Spain for her third season with Division One Spanish side CB Bembibre.

Since her return, Orla (25) has been off to a flying start - she won the accolade of MVP (Most Valuable Player) at a recent tournament and her side have won both of their league games so far.

"My first year was a real learning experience. I had to do a lot of growing - it was a really big transition for me, being in Spain and playing at such a high level. There was also the language!" Orla smiles.

"In my second year, I was becoming more comfortable, playing a lot of minutes and gaining the trust of my coach and having more responsibility. Now I am hoping this year will be my stand-out year. I want to have a really good individual year and a really good year with the club; these last two seasons, we have been very successful and made top four and top five each year. So I am hoping we can make it to the finals this year."

"I love playing in Spain, but I would also like to play at a higher level some day. The Euroleague is the highest level, so if I can get there, that's my goal, whether that's in Spain or in another country."

She began playing basketball with Glanmire Basketball Club when she was just 10, alongside her twin sister Sinead.

"I am pretty much from a basketball family," Orla tells me. "My older brothers Niall and Colin play in Cork with the UCC Demons. They're six years older than us, and they have been playing since they were about 12. Sinead and I played together for eight years; with under-age Irish teams and with the senior team then when we were 17."

At 18, both Orla and Sinead received sports scholarships for Binghamton University in New York, where they spent four years studying and playing for the college. Orla did a degree in Sociology, while Sinead chose English.

"It was brilliant. As soon as we started playing it was in our minds that we would go together to college in the US on a scholarship," Orla says. "Sinead retired after college, unfortunately, so that was the end of our playing together. She was a very good player as well and the agency I signed with wanted to sign her too, if she had wanted, but we were always two different minds in that sense. She knew that she didn't want to play basketball; she wanted to pursue her marketing career. Whereas I was 100pc into basketball - no matter what was going to happen, my career was going to be in basketball.

"It was kind of nice to go our own separate ways too. We had been playing together since we were 10 until 22, so we each did our own thing then. We never had any rivalry because we played different positions," the 6'1" shooting guard explains. "So we were always working together and never fighting for the same position, thankfully."

After college, Orla spent her first professional season in the Czech Republic playing for BL Lokomotiva Karlovy Vary. However, a meniscus injury to her knee forced her to return home early that spring.

That summer, Orla was spotted by Antonio 'Chiqui' Barros of CB Bembibre at a training camp and he was immediately interested in signing her for his team.

"I had been home rehabbing and I ended up going to a professional camp my agency had for professional players in Spain that summer," Orla explains. "My coach from my club now saw me and signed me on the first day. I've played with them for two seasons now."

Ireland currently has no national women's or men's basketball team due to financial restrictions. However, Orla believes there are plenty of talented players still coming up through the ranks who will be ready to go once the national teams can be reformed.

"At the moment we don't have a national team because of funding. It's been about six years since we have had one because we owe money to FIBA, which is the governing body for basketball in Europe. So when that debt is paid off, which I think will be in 2017, the teams will be back then, and there is a lot of talent out there."

At the Baku 2015 European Games, Orla took part in the 3x3 competition with Team Ireland and the results were extremely promising.

"We lost to Russia in the quarter finals, but we were pleased enough because we got that far and we were up against countries with big national teams," Orla says. "Basketball in Spain is huge, which I suppose comes from the national team, who have been very successful. The supporters are really die-hard and they don't discriminate between the women's and the men's - we have thousands of supporters at every game."

During the season, which runs until the end of March, Orla trains twice a day with the team.

"We have a morning session, usually between 11am and 2pm, and then you will come home, eat lunch and maybe go to the gym for 30 minutes for a lifting session, or I prefer to do med ball work and bodyweight exercises," she says. "Then we'll be back on the court again at about 6pm until about 9pm.

"That is usually the schedule every day. We play on a Saturday - a home game is at 6pm - but for an away game we might leave on the Friday and come back on the Saturday night, so it depends. We get Sundays off."

Off the basketball court, Orla prefers to use an exercise ball or 'med ball' for her training sessions, mixed in alongside a lot of bodyweight work.

"In college we did heavy lifting with weights four times a week and Olympic lifts. I am a fan of that too, but I think for me now, when I am training twice a day on the court and trying to prevent injury as much as possible, I like to do a more relaxed programme of 30 minutes of conditioning work.

"That is usually with the med ball and would include a lot of squats, some swings, passes against the wall, lots of lunges and jumps - so lots of basketball-related movements as opposed to just doing a bench press or something like that."

For Orla, avoiding injury is a key concern in every activity.

"I am susceptible to injury and I found that when I did lift a lot, I would tend to hurt myself more," she says. "I use a med ball now instead and make sure that all of the movements I do relate to basketball and the way I would move on the court.

"I do a lot of mobility work too, which would include a number of yoga poses to improve on my flexibility. Mobility is a huge area for me that I have been working to improve this summer in particular. It's so important," Orla adds.

Nutrition is another relatively recent interest. "I only really started getting into nutrition last summer," she admits. "I knew I had to get better and start really thinking about it at some stage. I am not that strict with it, and I don't do anything that crazy, but I definitely know what I like now and what's beneficial and I try to stick to that as much as I can.

"I am big into sleep too," Orla laughs. "It's so important. I can sleep in because I don't have to be in training until 11am, so I will be in bed by midnight and will get in eight or nine hours every night."

Orla is also a huge fan of the Spanish people's traditional mid-afternoon siesta nap.

"I think the Spanish have it so right with their siesta, even just 30 minutes to revamp your body and let your head rest a little bit can be so helpful," she explains. "You are back up and it's almost like a new day, you are ready to go again. It is brilliant."

Orla's food diary

"I am more of a snacker than I am a big meal eater," Orla explains.

"I would prefer to have three big snacks a day and a big meal as opposed to three big meals. In the morning I will always eat porridge with fruit and some honey or I will have wholewheat toast with some peanut butter and banana. I am obsessed with smoothies too. I will usually have a smoothie bowl with some granola and maybe linseed for a snack, and another addiction is Greek yoghurt. Dinner would be meat and vegetables and salad.

"When I get into my routine in Spain I will have my breakfast, do our morning training, have a snack and then I'll have a little nap. After that I'll have my dinner before our main practice session and then after I will usually have a shake or maybe some Greek yoghurt with some fruit."

Orla's health and fitness tips

• The most important thing with both nutrition and fitness is getting into a routine - the more good habits you can make the better. That ritual and routine of knowing what your body needs, what gives you energy and what you like, whether it's with your nutrition or working out, is really key.

• You don't just automatically crave the good stuff, you crave what your body is continuously given, so if you can keep giving your body good food, it will start to crave just that.

• Sleep is hugely important; if you don't get your eight hours at night or even if you do, you should have a short nap at some stage during the day. It is good for your body and your mind.

• Mobility work and improving your flexibility is essential to avoid injury.

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