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Knowing your athletes is key says former Arsenal coach

PUBLISHED: 08:18 18 May 2020 | UPDATED: 08:18 18 May 2020

Arsenal players celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2016 SSE Women's FA Cup Final against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium

Arsenal players celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2016 SSE Women's FA Cup Final against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium

PA Archive/PA Images

Keeping fit is crucial in everyday life especially if your profession is a professional footballer.

With the ongoing Coronavirus crisis it may be tough for players to keep themselves in peak condition.

One man who will know exactly what to do in this case is former Arsenal strength and conditioning coach Cairbre Ó Cairealláin.

Talking about his career at Arsenal Women, Ó Cairealláin said “I joined Arsenal Women as the strength and conditioning Coach in 2016, after spending six months working at the Arsenal Youth Academy in Hale End.

“I was primarily responsible for the physical preparation of the team, which was a broad and varied role. This is typical for S+C coaches working within small coaching teams.

“On a day-to-day basis this meant coaching the team in the gym and on the pitch, making sure each player had training programmes that were appropriate to their development level. A close working relationship with the team physiotherapist is essential in rehabbing injured players back to the pitch.

“For the S+C coach, end-stage rehab is particularly important to get right. The player has clinically ticked all the boxes, but you need to challenge and stress the body to ensure they are ready to play again at the highest level.

“My role involves monitoring training loads throughout the season, using GPS technology, to ensure we are training the team at intensities that they need to reach on match day, as well as making sure that they are fresh at the right times.

“Load management is about getting the balance right between training, and being ready to perform on a given Sunday. It is very easy to get stuck into spreadsheets and training programmes, but the most important thing is knowing your athletes, and how their body responds to the training stimulus.”

Ó Cairealláin is from Belfast and played hurling as a minor for Antrim and boasts a masters degree in sports performance.

Talking about the highlight of his career at Arsenal Women he added: “During my time with Arsenal Women, the club had come through a transition period to full-time professional, so it was a challenging yet exciting time.

“We had a great group of players and committed staff, who were very ambitious and determined to get Arsenal back to the top.

“That first season had it’s ups and downs, but we got ourselves to the FA Cup Final, which we won thanks to a Danielle Carter goal.

“That was a memorable day at Wembley Stadium, the match being played in front of a record attendance of 40,000.

“Chelsea went into the game as big favourites and I’ll never forget the moment when Dani whipped the ball into the top right corner of the net early on in the game.

“We showed real grit then to keep Chelsea at bay and win 1-0, It was a joy to watch Kelly Smith that day.

“She wasn’t training much in the lead up to the final due to old injuries, but then come the big day she was unbelievable and led from the front, Chelsea couldn’t touch her.

“Perhaps even more of a highlight for me was a day out we had with the team the week before the Final. We wanted to do something outside of the training ground to relax and have a bit of fun, so we took the team to Heartwood Forest in St Albans.

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“The assistant coach, Jose Elena, and I went up a few hours early and set out a treasure hunt. When the team arrived they set off in groups, and we had a great laugh.

“Afterwards we had a picnic in the sun. It was the first time that we really spent time together as a group outside of Arsenal, and was the perfect antidote to the serious preparations for Wembley the following Saturday.”

Making sure some of the top stars such as Leah Williamson, Jordan Nobbs and Kelly Smith were ready for matchday is a job only some will ever dream about.

Asked how he would advise people to stay healthy, Ó Cairealláin said: “It’s important that staying healthy is a part of life that we enjoy, rather than something that we endure because it’s good for us.

“There is joy to be found in being physically active and training, in eating food that makes us feel good, and resting well so that we are fully energised.

“The number one piece of advice I would give is to find a physical pursuit that you enjoy doing. Our working lives have become very much sedentary and that can drain you of energy and the motivation to move and exercise.

“Finding a form of physical activity that is fun makes you more likely to stick with it in the long run, and to feel the long-term physical, mental, and emotional benefits. This in turn, encourages us to make other healthy changes in our lives, like eating healthy foods and sleeping well.”

Working at one of the biggest clubs in world football is undoubtedly special but he has now left North London to return home to Ireland.

Asked what is he doing nowadays he said: “I am now back home in Ireland, currently in my second season as the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Tipperary Hurling Team.

“Last year we had a great run, winning the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. Hurling is the sport that I played before I moved to coaching full-time, so it’s nice to be back in that environment again.

“At Arsenal, I always got stick for my terrible football skills, so at least I don’t have that problem any more!”.

Talking about his day-to-day routine, Ó Cairealláin said: “My day-to-day routine at the minute is very different to the one that I had envisaged. We would be preparing for our second round of the Championship last Sunday, but of course, everything has changed since Covid-19, and in the south of Ireland there is a 2km restriction on travel, so I haven’t gone very far in recent weeks.

“In saying that, I find sticking to a daily routine to be even more important than ever, or the days can slip by very easily. I start off each day the same. I have a cup of coffee while I do a bit of reading.

“I then plan my day in my journal and then do some stretching followed by 15 minutes of meditation. Since the lockdown here, I have made the effort to go for a walk every day. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow some gym equipment, so I get a gym session done in the back garden a few times a week.

“In terms of work, I have been sending the players their individual training plans to work with on their own and, as everyone is, we are looking forward to coming out the other end of this.”

Talking about his hopes and aspirations for the future the Irishman talked about his hopes to improve even further in his career.

He added: “I don’t spend a lot of time looking too far ahead in terms of my career or where I want to end up.

“As long as I am coaching and helping others, I’ll be happy. I really enjoy the team environment, where you have a group of people all striving towards the collective goals of the team, and it’s hard to beat the buzz of game day.

“I have been coaching for 10 years, but I still have a lot to learn, and it’s an ever-evolving field, so if I have an ambition for the future, it’s to be a better coach than I am today.”


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