Oxford United's pre-season 2018 includes a tour and three matches in Ireland. We will be covering the tour on social media, iFollow, and of course right here on the official website...
Day One - Friday
I am not one of life’s great travellers. We have an early start so I set my alarm for 3.30am and then wake up at 1.15 and 2.45 just to check if the alarm is set properly. As a result I am a little tired as I drag my enormous suitcase through Heathrow Terminal 5 trying to find the playing squad of Oxford United. Luckily they are coming the opposite way, resplendent in their all new electric blue Puma training kit and led by Curtis Nelson and Rob Hall.
There are always teething problems. In the past we have left cones, training tops and new signings behind. Everyone else is wearing blue but I am resplendent in my black Puma polo shirt and therefore, much to Curtis and Rob’s delight, the obvious leader. I don’t even organise our family holidays. I just follow. So we stand there like Gru and the Minions until Curtis gives up on my organisational powers and sorts everything out. That’s what captains are for.
Eventually the rest of the staff are located in Starbucks and the natural order is restored. I am happily relegated to the back row of the plane and after a light snooze we are soon descending into Dublin airport and then piling in to a fleet of people carriers. Scott Daly (fitness guru) Wayne Brown (goalkeeping mentor), Dan Bond (not sure what he does. Will ask) have all come over on the ferry to allow us to have transport available at all times, while Mark Jarrett, Kit Man, has driven his silver dream machine kit van over. Mark gets a lot of stick but he has now driven to Spain and Ireland on tours where most people have flown, and he does so willingly then spends the whole of Friday printing numbers on training kit in a room near reception at our excellent hotel. As everyone here knows: what a guy.
Our accommodation is right on the sea front in Portmarnock and the staff could not be more friendly. Breakfast is available as soon as we arrive and then James Henry is tasked with taking the whole squad for a long walk to get the journey out of their legs. Having been here twice before in pre-season he allegedly has local knowledge so off they trek along the beach, soaking up the sun on a magnificent day of unbroken sunshine.
Meanwhile Karl Robinson and his backroom team make the final arrangements for what is likely to be a tough few days for the players. “You are not going to like some of it” Shaun Derry warns the players after lunch “it is going to test you, physically and mentally, but that will happen during the season as well so learn from it and we are also going to make lots of good memories while we are out here.”
Rather than go out in blazing afternoon sun there is a brief ‘down period’ where everyone recovers from the early start. It’s a chance for me to catch up and launch a few stories - Fiacre Kelleher moves to Macclesfield on loan - and to have a chat with Tiger who calls from Thailand and talks excitedly about new arrivals like Samir Carruthers and Tony McMahon, but also the other new faces we can expect either during the tour or shortly after.
He catches the excitement from this end as well and starts to make plans to fly over for the Monday game against Portmarnock. “How many fans do you think will be coming?” he asks “200 or so?” “No Tiger” I reply “I think you will be surprised…”
Day Two- Saturday
6.45am and I am on the beach on another unbelievably beautiful morning. It is calm and peaceful and the waves lap gently on the footprint free sands. Karl and Wayne Brown have been for a run and return just as Derek Fazackerley and Shaun Derry step on to the sands with what I hope is buckets and spades but turns out to be bags of football equipment for what will be one tough day.
It starts easily enough. The players are split into two groups (odd numbers and evens) and one group go for a 20 minute run while the others play a devilish version of head tennis which becomes immediately competitive. Faz is the umpire and is helped on close line calls by scuff marks in the sand rather than VAR. It may by half seven and the rest of the nation may well still be in bed, but this lot are wide awake and it’s a game, so obviously they all want to win.
Ed Waldron, analysis expert for the goalkeepers (who we will speak to in more depth later) launches the drone to get some amazing pictures. All is well with the world as we walk back to the hotel for a spot of breakfast.
All is not quite so well with the players a couple of hours later because, frankly, they must ache to their very core after as tough a training session as you will ever see. There are drills, warm ups and a mixture of work with and without the ball, but at the end comes a seven times repetition of something called the flower run, which involves running from the centre circle and around eight poles on the edge of the pitch- draw it and look at the pattern the players make to see where it gets its name.
It is gruelling and Karl asks all of the staff to get involved: everyone encourages and urges the flagging players and something extraordinary happens. Their times for the first run somehow start going down on the fifth and sixth repetitions. Unless Derren Brown is lurking behind a tree this is down to pure determination and will power and it produces scenes of celebration from everyone because it has been a team effort and a point has been made, beyond pure fitness.
As a reward the players get to throw themselves into the sea. Some are more enthusiastic than others but on a packed beach it’s a nice moment. And it’s still only lunchtime!
I am knackered just from watching so have a shower, neatly smashing a glass bottled deodorant on the bathroom floor. What type you ask? Not Sure*. And then, after a little break, it all begins again with a final, monster gym session, just in case any muscles have escaped torture already. Nobody complains, they just get on with it and work and work and work. Tremendous.
I retreat to my glorious smelling room to write this diary and edit a couple of videos that you can see in iFollow which I hope capture the spirit of the day. Those of you coming out to Ireland for the games in a week’s time will add colour and excitement to a pre season that is well and truly up and running.
Could someone bring me a hat?
Follow The Tour:
- Hear the games and see excusive interviews in iFollow
- Get regular updates on Twitter and Facebook
- Browse a gallery of images above