Monday 20 January 2020

Johnny O'Connor - Life with the Gunners is an eye-opener

I know I'll end up back in Galway at some stage, I just don't know when

Johnny O'Connor pictured in his role as a strength and conditioning coach at Arsenal. Photo credit: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Johnny O'Connor pictured in his role as a strength and conditioning coach at Arsenal. Photo credit: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Johnny O'Connor

Since I finished up with Connacht two seasons ago, things have been very different in the O'Connor household.

Ever since I was a teenager, every day of my life was focused on becoming a professional rugby player. Everything from diet, gym work and private life was targeted towards being ready to take to the field with an oval ball in my hand.

So when the chance to put my studies in strength and conditioning to good use came up after I retired, the fact that I was changing to a rounder ball probably raised a few eyebrows.

The opportunity to take on an S&C role with Arsenal, one of the top football clubs in the world, was an incredible opening for me and it was a chance that I couldn't really turn down.

So for the second time in my life, I upped sticks and moved the family over to London. And so far it has proved to be a super move, it's an unbelievable experience.

Officially my title at Arsenal is strength and conditioning coach, but I think physical preparation coach sounds a bit better, so I'm going with that.

On a day to day basis, I look after the Arsenal U-18 squad - I'm the lead man for them - but I also have the responsibility of individually managing the preparation of ten of the club's academy players.

It is a challenging role, but one that I enjoy and the chance to continue to work with elite sportsmen is a real joy.

Most of their games take place at the weekend; it is up to me to assess the players afterwards, report back to the coaches on a Monday morning about how the players are feeling and let them know if there is any risks or red flag situations that they need to know about.

Essentially we don't want the players picking up any unnecessary injuries and we want to make sure that are fresh to perform.

My role involves taking in a lot of data from the players, so it is vital to establish a relationship with them - intuition is probably the best tool at our disposal to assess if a player is fatigued.


I have been asked on a few occasions about the difference between the games of rugby and football since I swapped over, but in reality there are a lot of similarities. In both sports at this stage of their development, we see eager, young sportsmen who are determined to be a success in their chosen field.

At Arsenal, we have an excellent group of players and they seem to welcome the culture of hard work and training that they are going through.

It's exactly the same for young rugby players, but the needs are slightly different in the preparation and focus. In general, when young guys arrive in to us they need to get stronger. Obviously, we have different age players and everyone is at different stages of development, but we work to get the balance right between training load and volume to make sure our players are properly developed

All in all, we have been delighted with the move back to London. I played here with Wasps as a young pro, but it still took a little time to get back into the swing of things. Having a young family now presents a different set of challenges than when I was here last time, but thankfully we have all settled in well now.

We're living in Richmond. It's probably about the size of Galway so it's a good base.

It's kind of funny, I know I'll end up back in Galway at some stage, I just don't know when. I'm just enjoying this experience at the moment.

As a former Connacht and Wasps player, last weekend was the perfect opportunity for me to make my return as a rugby supporter. I went along to High Wycombe on Saturday and from the early signs there are still a few issues to be ironed out. There are still a lot of guys to come back in and Connacht are definitely missing that creative spark.

But it's just pre-season yet and I am pretty sure that when we see the full-strength side out, it'll be a far more expansive outfit. They definitely missed the experience and class of players like Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion and John Muldoon, but come the start of the Guinness Pro12 season they'll be in pretty good shape.

Irish Independent

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