Sunday 25 February 2018

Stephen Hunt: Sometimes I wish I threw dummy out a bit more

Republic of Ireland's Shane Long. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's Shane Long. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

This has been a strange few weeks for me. For the first time in my adult life I am not part of pre-season training. I am not being told what to do and then having to do it or run the risk of being fined - and worse, ridiculed by team-mates for being fined.

I am not being told what to eat, and when to eat it. I am not trying to get to know a new manager, to figure out if he likes me or not, or what kind of player does he like. I am not trying to get back in the good books of an old manager.

No, now I am just busy being me, or rather the new me. Because life has never been as busy. Yes, I am out of the goldfish bowl that is the life of a professional footballer but I am not out of professional football as I embark on my new career representing players. All the protections that were there for me as a player are gone, now I have to make it on my own.

Still, the more things change the more they stay the same. I know the world of professional football. Okay, so I'm seeing it from a different side, but it's still the same game.

What's different, I suppose, is the endless rounds of meetings. I feel like I'm in my own version of 'Groundhog Day'. Flights, trains, meetings . . . wake up, repeat! And I love it!

Over the last few days I've been involved in Ryan Delaney's move from Wexford Youths to Burton Albion and hopefully that will all be signed, sealed and delivered in the next few days. But credit really must go to Shane Keegan and Mick Wallace because their hard work has really paid off and the club will get a fee for a player who himself has worked very hard to get where he is.

I like to still think that the good guys always rise to the top one way or another. This lad's world has gone from looking to sort a place to stay in Carlow for college to not even getting a chance to say goodbye to his mother before heading off on what will hopefully be a great adventure for him. (Ryan's mother was away on holidays when it all happened.) Good luck to him!

Meanwhile, our heroes of France returned to work last week, or if they are lucky and have a particularly sympathetic manager, they will just be returning this week. The Euros will be a distant memory as they knuckle down to the hard slog of being told what to do, what to eat and where to be.

I always say fitness is a fashion and all this extra science which is now part and parcel of a professional footballer's preparation is too. I've always liked a good healthy mix of new- and old-school surroundings because in many ways I feel it is perfect for the mentality of the Irish and British players.

Anyway, team-mates at their respective clubs will be full of questions about the Euros, though, trying to get an idea of what it was like to be part of it. Life doesn't get much better than being part of a happy squad at a major tournament so it will be tough now being back to the daily grind. It's like returning from a spree in Las Vegas! The Irish players will have jumped off the plane trying to squeeze every last minute out of their holidays - look at the pictures last week of Shane Long enjoying life on the beach as his new contract is ready to be signed when he gets back.

Shane has been properly rewarded for his hard work last season and has memories of great moments during the summer. Knowing Shane, he won't rest on his laurels, even if sometimes it's difficult to get yourself going in the same way. It's sport at the end of the day.

Don't get me wrong, they'll be happy to see their friends in the team, happy to see the manager if they like him, or rather if he likes them, less so if he didn't pick them towards the end of the season even though he knew they were trying to get into the Euros squad. If it was me there would be great satisfaction in having proved him wrong. But then that's me all over.

Of course, the manager still has the power.

Maybe a move for some of the players will keep the dream going but for most it really is back to reality and some might struggle to get going at the start of the season. It's a hangover for sure no matter what way you look at it so don't be surprised if some of those who starred in France will have a slow start to the season - in many ways that's natural. This applies to all the countries, and the longer you were in the tournament the harder it will be to find your form in the opening weeks.

Irish and British players find it hard to force a move at this time of the year because most have settled into life in this part of the world so they find it hard to spit their dummy out. Other players are less tied to where they live so can have a right good go at forcing a move away, by skipping training and going AWOL, or even worse, by not skipping training but not trying a leg and creating a bad atmosphere in the camp.

Imagine what it's like in a competitive training game when a player who is not arsed ends up on your team and you are busting a gut to try and get in the first team? Honestly, you feel like smashing him in half.

But these players will do what it takes to get a move - I'm not sure we have that in us, even though I really wish I had it at certain stages of my career.

I don't have any regrets but I wish sometimes I had thrown my dummy out of the pram a bit more to force the issue because when a club doesn't want you they will offload you very quickly.

Naturally, I'm not just saying this because of my new role in football, but for those Irish players who are happy with their lot, good luck to them, and for those on the back of a good Euros who are curious about making a move, then a little bit of disturbance might be a good thing.

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