Sunday 18 February 2018

'Rugby players don't know how they do it'

Life is a whole lot different when your livelihood is separate from your football, writes Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

Meath cousins Joe and Eamonn Sheridan have a lot in common. They are both well over six feet tall, they are in great physical shape and they play sport at the top level. They both love what they do. In a regular week the cousins train four days and play a match at the weekend.

However, there is one major difference between them: one is a professional athlete and the other fits in a 40/50-hour working week between training sessions.

Eamonn plays rugby for Leinster. He is part of their academy squad and has already featured several times for the senior team. Joe is a Meath senior footballer and works for Oxigen waste management in Dublin.

On a Monday, Joe has a weights session; Tuesday he has training on the pitch; Wednesday is a down day; Thursday he is back on the pitch and Friday it's weights again. Saturday is probably his favourite day; he can have a lie-in and chill out before Sunday's match.

Eamonn does weights and a pitch session on Monday and Tuesday mornings; he too has Wednesdays off; Thursday is pitch only and on Fridays it's a light session to prepare for the weekend game.

Although the volume of training they do is almost on a par, that's where the similarities in their lifestyles end. Joe is up every day at 5.0am to start work at six, he finishes at 3.30 and goes home to have a quick bite to eat and often a half-hour sleep before training.

Four evenings of the week he is home at 10 o'clock, and then it's usually straight to bed. Eamonn's training sessions are generally in the morning and only take up a couple of hours of the day, not much longer than Joe's. When he is finished a session he usually meets up with team-mates for food, then some rest, sleep or an afternoon at the cinema. Evenings are dedicated to more rest and recovery.

"I have so much respect for Joe and the other Gaelic footballers. Us rugby players don't know how they do it," says Eamonn. "Especially when we hear of teams training at 5.30am and then going to work. More often than not when we finish a session we just want to sleep."

Joe admits to being slightly envious of his cousin's lifestyle. Going on training camps with Meath over the years gave him an insight into the life of a professional athlete. Being able to dedicate all his time to training would be a dream come true but he knows that it won't happen during his career so he just gets on with it. However, he is worried about the increasing demands on players and isn't sure how long more it can continue for.

"The whole thing is getting a bit excessive," he says. "Teams training at five o'clock in the morning and training twice a day is crazy. I couldn't do it even if I wanted to because of work. Every year being an inter-county player is getting tougher, the demands are increasing and it's not easy trying to keep everyone happy.

"Some lads are just quitting panels for the sake of it, they don't even have a real reason. They are in their mid-twenties and they just don't want to put in the time or else they are under pressure with work or their personal lives.

"It will have to be taken back a bit or else go the other way, go professional. I don't see that happening so I think that it will come to a stage where the players will take a stand, or the GAA or GPA step in and do something about what's happening at the moment."

However, Joe knows that if they want to be competitive they have to train at this level as the rest of the top teams in the country are putting in the hours. The game is evolving both on and off the field so it appears up to every team to adapt accordingly.

"Trevor Giles is our physio and we were chatting recently about how things have changed in the years since he retired, especially training and preparation. The days of standing in front of the goals kicking 20 balls over the bar are long gone.

"Free-flowing football seems to have disappeared, there is no flair in the forwards, teams have six defenders around the half-forward line and corner-forwards often end up back with the corner-backs."

Another difference between the two cousins is in their pre-season training. Leinster spend two to three months preparing for the start of the season, it's where they do their hard work and make their gains. Then when the games get under way their aim is to maintain fitness and stay fresh.

"We have four weeks off every year and then we start our pre-season. It's a long enough break for us and on top of that every four or five weeks we have three days off together so that we are never going for a long period of time. It's very well structured and managed."

Meath, on the other hand, were not permitted to return to collective training until January 1 because of the controversial winter training ban. And then they had to play an O'Byrne Cup game a week after they were allowed to resume training. Although Joe agrees with the concept of players getting a break, he thinks that from a safety point of view it needs to be done in a better way.

"Having a two-month ban on training and then expecting a player to go play a game is crazy and dangerous. That's putting the player in danger of getting injured, it's a recipe for disaster. What other sport would ask their athletes to do that?"

The attitude to socialising and alcohol is also very different in both sports. Although Eamonn is the professional he isn't under any obligation to abstain from alcohol. "It's up to the player to use their heads," he explains.

Joe on the other hand is currently on a drink ban. "Most lads wouldn't drink anyway," he says. "It's hard when you are a GAA player because if you are out and not drinking people will come up and ask you why you are out, even if you might not have a match for three weeks."

Our chat finishes at 4.30 in the afternoon. Eamonn heads home to rest for the evening having finished his training hours earlier. Joe, who came straight from work, rushes home to Meath to get dinner before his session starts.

Although what they do on the sports field is very similar, their lifestyles are poles apart.

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