Former Munster ace Holland rediscovers his appetite with Cork GAA role

Former Munster ace Holland rediscovers his appetite with Cork GAA role
Former Munster rugby player Johnny Holland on the Cork sideline. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

FORMER Munster rugby player Jonny Holland, has relished his time working as a performance nutritionist with the Cork senior football and hurling teams.

The former professional rugby player who had to retire at the age of 25 due to a hamstring injury, has said his regard for the conditioning of GAA players has increased since his role with the teams this season.

“Their professionalism is class. Seeing players first hand and how they prepare is a real interest of mine.

“Getting to see the culture they’ve built is very enjoyable.

“A lot of them would think I’m used to it after sharing a dressing room with some world-class rugby players, but there are some top athletes in these dressing rooms.

“It is a privilege to be involved”, said the former rugby star Jonny, who was tipped to have a glittering career as an out half with the Munster senior rugby team. He still says he misses playing four years after retirement.

His involvement as an assistant coach with Cork Cork and his role with the Cork senior teams helps maintain his sporting appetite.

“Of course, it’s never easy but four years on I find it easier to deal with. I still have my boots in the bag, but I don’t think anyone wants me to use them.

“Sport is part of your identity and you build a different bond in a dressing room. I thought I’d want to leave sport when I retired and focus my time elsewhere, but I’ve gotten even more into it.

“To be fair, my girlfriend Chloe has been ridiculously patient with me and I’m grateful for that. I don’t think you ever know how long it’s going to last. At the moment I’m hungry for more.”

Munster’s Johnny Holland and Jack O'Donoghue in 2016. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Munster’s Johnny Holland and Jack O'Donoghue in 2016. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Jonny has really enjoyed working with the Cork senior football and hurling teams.

The players desire for constant perfection has really impressed the sports enthusiast.

“GAA players are very keen to learn more about their nutrition and where they can improve. With some of them they have never been exposed to that level of information so there are very easy wins early on.

“With others they are at the other end of their career and have heard many of the same messages before, but things have changed too so getting the point across is important.

“Sometimes it’s nearly about unlearning what they thought they knew and bringing them up to speed.

“Most guys will follow the same guidelines, but you have to get into the nuts and bolts with the individual and learn what suits them more to get the best results as a team.

“I would be in touch with Aidan O’Connell very often trying to extend the nutrition programme to the U20, minor and Rebel Óg teams. We are also trying to bring the coaches up to speed.”

GAA players and rugby players are always striving for gains in every aspect of their game, but they differ slightly when it comes to performance nutrition as Jonny elaborated upon.

“There are some differences. Rugby players are nearly overly obsessed with protein and fuelling for the amount of work required.

“They need to be bigger to deal with contact, so eating more is an easier conversation. The GAA lads would have to be told more about the importance of protein for recovery and muscle gain.

“They also don’t want to carry any extra weight because their game is about avoiding the contact and the mileage would be that much higher.

“GAA players also train at a different time to their rugby counterparts in the pro game, so the fuelling times and bigger meals are at different times of the day.

“The general requirements can be quite similar, it’s more the practical side of things.”

The performance nutritionist has a crucial role in both the build up and after the game. During games, they also play key roles as Jonny revealed.

“I am observing mainly. Beforehand I will just try to make sure that the right foods, supplements or drinks are there for the players and get a few electrolyte drinks ready for certain players at half-time.

“Hydration is one of the most important things on game day, but my role is very much about being a fly on the wall.

“I’ll normally sit with the players if I can because they tend to ask questions as they go, even if they know the answer. Very often you just have to reassure them that they are doing the right things at the right times.”

Holland also springs to life in the immediate aftermath of a game, which can be tough if they have experienced defeat as he explained.

“I tend to pester the lads with refuelling strategies without getting on their nerves too much. When you lose it’s harder to get guys to drink some milk or eat a flapjack, but it has to be done win, lose or draw.

“You can only encourage the right habits. Sometimes you’ll get a grunt back, other times they’ll know it’s the right thing to do so they’ll just get on with it, but it’s about finding the balance.

“Making sure the food is palatable is another thing after the game because eating after a tough slog is never the easiest. Trying to have enough snacks that are easy to consume is a good back up plan for those situations,” he says.

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