Tuesday 20 February 2018

The last Irishman standing - Kavanagh playing key part in Welsh Euro revolution

Wales star Gareth Bale alongside Kilkenny native Ronan Kavanagh at a training session.
Wales star Gareth Bale alongside Kilkenny native Ronan Kavanagh at a training session.

Michael Verney

The fanfare surrounding Ireland's Euro 2016 odyssey is subsiding with the hordes of travelling support returning home to normality after three weeks of euphoria - but there is still one beacon of light.

The hopes of Irish hands lifting the Henri Delaunay Trophy live on and while Ronan Kavanagh isn't performing between the white lines, his role with Wales underpins their revolution.

Sports science has evolved enormously and the Kilkenny native plays a key part in Chris Coleman's squad working alongside experienced hands like Ryland Morgans (formerly of Liverpool) and Adam Owen (previously with Rangers).

Quarter-finals of major championships don't come easily and Kavanagh rises early. Players are regularly supplemented with vitamins and fish oil, so pill pods are filled for each individual by half seven every morning.


Wellness questionnaires and saliva tests are investigated to assess players' wellbeing before heading to the training ground to set up GPS pods and prepare pre-activation and stretching routines.

Gareth Bale celebrates following Wales' 1-0 win over Northern Ireland. Picture credit: PA News
Gareth Bale celebrates following Wales' 1-0 win over Northern Ireland. Picture credit: PA News

Kavanagh, a UL Sports Science graduate, prides himself on covering every base in preparation and recovery, but initially some players were resistant to their modern methods, akin to Roy Keane's recent second-day recovery jibe, before later seeing their many merits.

"You see the stats the boys are putting in during games and you just think 'ah we are doing the right thing, we're doing it properly'. The boys have just seen how much of a positive effect it can have on them," Kavanagh says.

"When the GPS first came out they were like 'why am I wearing it?' but now you see Gaz (Bale) coming over to the screen and asking 'What's my target? What am I after hitting?' When he does that, he gets a buy-in from everyone else."

At just 27 Kavanagh has enjoyed a meteoric rise, enjoying spells with Stat Sports in Dundalk, where he worked with Leinster and Ulster, England's U-20 rugby side, QPR, Galatasaray, Preston North End and currently Burnley.

Sean Dyche's Burnley looked set for the play-offs before catching fire and going 23 games unbeaten to win the Championship, reaching the promised land of the Premier League with essentially the same 11 players each week.

"People say 'ah you need to rotate your squad' but we didn't rotate at all, we played the same 11 every Saturday and every Tuesday," says Kavanagh.

"That was our big driving point and we had one player who did on average 33km every week for 42 weeks.

"As long as players get consistent loads and they're not ridiculous, we're happy. It's the player who does 10km one week and then has to do 33km the next. . . whatever he's used to he can tolerate. You just need to be on top of the research the whole time."

After falling 2-1 to England, it looked like Wales' campaign might come to a premature end but a brilliant 3-0 win against the Russians secured a last-16 place, where they edged out Northern Ireland on Saturday.

Today they face Belgium, second in FIFA's world ranking, but with Bale in tow, who Kavanagh has watched "explode" on the world stage since moving to Real Madrid, he believes they always have a chance.

"When I started three years ago he was at Spurs and he was doing well but he has absolutely exploded. You come in and he's one of the boys, he doesn't give it any 'I get this in Madrid, I get that in Madrid', he just gets on with it," he says.

"He hasn't changed, he's the same kid, he's probably just got more professional as he's kicked on because he's seen everything at Madrid. And you always have a chance when Bale is playing.

"Literally any free-kick you think 'well he'll probably have a go from here won't he?' The one against England was just phenomenal. These lads have all been together since they were 16 and the vibe in Wales is brilliant, everyone is buzzing."

Kavanagh admits he'd love to work with Ireland some time but would be "daft to leave Wales" right now. And while our Euro dream may be over, Chris Coleman, whose late father was from the East Wall in Dublin, and Kavanagh are still flying the flag.

Irish Independent

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