Day Three- Sunday
Last night was a team bonding exercise for the staff. The players stayed in their rooms watching the World Cup games other than a very bizarre 20 minutes where myself, Shandon Baptiste, Canice Carroll and Malachi Napa watched the game in an empty nightclub! It is attached to the hotel and to be honest I didn’t realise it was even there until the bar manager saw the four of us walking back from dinner and asked if we would like to watch the game on the big screens - he would open up the club for us. It sounded good at the time but soon became awkward, sitting on the dancefloor, with the mirror ball spinning and lasers blinking, trying to watch Uruguay take on Portugal. One of the more surreal moments of the tour so far.
Too polite to leave, we eventually sneaked away at half time just in time for me to join the rest of the staff on the short drive to Malahide to watch the second half in a far more lively bar. The Management team, the medical/strength and conditioning team, the analysts, Amy the physio, Mark the Kit Man and myself as the media team had a couple of beers and relaxed, regularly being asked by the locals who we were and what we were doing. A gentleman tells me he recently visited ‘near Oxford. What was it called? Oh yes, Chelmsford’. You can see one or two of the knowledgeable football fans in the bar looking at Karl, Faz and Shaun and trying to place the faces.
It’s a warm pleasant evening and on our return to the hotel a few of us go for one last drink, which is ruined by Dan Bond. ‘Bondy’ is a magnificent person, great at analysing football matches, and one of the hardest working people I know, but he really, really, wants to be a pop star. He begs- and I mean literally begs - the resident pub singer to let him have a go and then brings the house down with his rendition of Mack the Knife.Irish people seem very easy to please; he gets THREE ENCORES and by the time he ends the night with a full version of My Way he is practically being invited to join Jedward and sing the Irish Eurovision entry next year. It is the best day of Bondy’s life. I’m off to bed.
At 7am we are back out on the beach and ready for the morning session. Off go the runners, up goes the drone, the smiles and laughs are all there. I note that the players all come and shake hands with every member of staff as they step on to the sand- they didn’t do that yesterday but it is a nice touch and signs of a united team and management.
When they head for the training pitch I break ranks for the first time and walk up the hill to Portmarnock AFC to have a look at the ground where the first game is to be played a week on Monday. There can be few more scenic grounds and I am in luck because the team are training and the guys who run the club are watching. We chat, have a laugh and run through a few ideas to accommodate the fans who come over. If you are coming then please note that there isn’t a stand, as such, and no bar. If you were with us in Spain a couple of years ago then think back to the game at the training camp where fans sat on a grass bank. This time you will be ringing the pitch and leaning on a metal fence. And, as at that match, there is no bar at the game itself, but drinks will be available in the nearby Leisure centre bar.
In the afternoon I drive a group of players to the gym for their third session of the day. ‘How was this morning?’ I ask Samir Carruthers, “Disgusting” is his reply, although he is grinning and clearly enjoying being part of this group already. The 20 minute journey to the gym turns into a 45 minute one because a van pulls across in front of us and we become detached from the convoy. This interrupts our sing song in the party bus but through a process of ‘left here, LEFT. No no I mean right. Maybe follow signs to the airport? This looks familiar. Shut up Canice it IS LEFT. Oh, isn’t this the right place?” we somehow get there and the whole squad get stuck into some core work.
As they finish, the game between Spain and Russia is just getting to penalties and 20 grown men cram round one phone to try and watch. When Russia go home a few of the players assure me that football will be coming home, shortly after us.
Right now it is 11pm and the hotel is eerily quiet. An exhausted group of players have crashed to their rooms to watch the football and rest up some tired limbs. They will sleep well tonight after two days of carefully constructed, subtly scheduled Hell. At times it has even been tough to watch, but whenever I start feeling sorry for them the intensity somehow goes up a notch and someone will be there clapping and shouting “it’s worth it”. “Miles in the legs, “Push yourself”. Sometimes it's the coaches, but just as often it is the players…