Day Three - Monday
There are tired bodies and even tireder minds this morning on the third day of training here in Ireland. There is a definite code of conduct that nobody moans or complains, but you can see it in their eyes as the players meet the staff down on the beach outside our hotel at 7am. The sun has yet to burn through the early morning cloud but it is still a stunning setting and this morning there are lobster pots strewn across the deserted sand as the whole squad set off on a jog around the bay.
Now look you lot: stop conspiring! For the last two days I have put up pictures with nine or ten players doing those runs. The images are a bit arty, but then so am I. There are nine or ten players because there are TWO groups! There are actually, when Luke Garbutt and Simon Eastwood arrive today, 22 players here, including a couple of trialists. The latest arrival, Tony McMahon flew in late last night and takes his place on the run having been given a warm welcome. Meanwhile in Lilleshall the under 23s have been holding their own training camp so that’s another nine or ten players, and when you count in the under 18s who are away in Devon the new training ground on Horspath Road is going to be a busy place when we all assemble.
Here, the first session is light hearted. Once back from the run, one group work under Wayne Brown who has them throwing themselves around in goalkeeping mode. They love it. The other half are playing a version of beach cricket where you basically kick it and can be caught if the fielder keeps the ball up three times: John Mousinho takes one outstanding catch that way, much to the delight of his teammates who behave as if they have won the Ashes. Actually, Steve Smith would love this game given the playing surface…
Next the squad are driven to training. Once again I stay behind because I have to deal with the new signing as well as keep in touch with the OX4 Mothership, but when they come back it is obvious that the players have had another very tough morning. There are a couple of blisters, maybe a rolled ankle, but otherwise it is just a case of getting some rest rather than treatment.
I am fortunate enough to have been on pre-season tours of Boston, Scotland, Austria, Spain and Portugal and I know how draining it can be, not just for the players but also the staff so I take my hat off to all involved. If I’m honest I am slightly detached; an observer and reporter who doesn’t join the exercises and early runs - we didn’t bring an ambulance with us - but this is also an extremely welcoming group who I think fans will take to.
Luke Garbutt flies in around 6.30 and John ‘Spike’ Elliott is dispatched to the airport to fetch him. He arrives as we finish dinner and is slightly bemused to see a senior player with his head on the table singing ‘Ring a ring of roses’. This is his punishment, imposed by Mr Mousino and Mr Shearer, for swearing at the table, and he has to keep his head on the table until someone else swears. Which nobody does.
Then it is a night off for everyone and we go for a look around Dublin. Players head in one direction, staff in another with the staff taxi having a lovely sing song to our favourite songs, one each. My obsession with The Wedding Present ruins the sing song a bit, I see now, but I am right,they are wrong.
It’s a good night, with former United midfielder Keith Andrews meeting up with us at one stage and everyone has a good time. It’s a release mechanism after all the hard work: players have been ticking off each session to build towards tonight and it is a happy, joyous group who return to the hotel later tonight.
Most tired legs turn left towards their rooms. Does anyone remember Billy’s Boots in the comics? Possessed by the spirit of an old player, young Billy’s boots would suddenly guide him into the correct place on the pitch to score dramatic late winners each week. I have an update on that, a comic strip called Baldy’s Boots, which are mysteriously instructed not to head for bed, but to turn right towards the bar. Curse them.
See highlights of Beach Cricket, a first interview with Luke Garbutt, plus the perils of leaving a camera within the reach of Rob Hall when you are driving to training, only in iFollow