TWO weeks into his new role as the Cork City women’s strength and conditioning coach and James Long O’Leary was forced to rip up his plans.
“I was thrown into the deep end a bit but that’s exactly what I wanted,” he reflects when harking back to his first few days at the club towards the end of last February.
Pre-season preparations had all be drawn up with the new campaign set to commence in the near future but the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the middle of March postponed the Women’s National League indefinitely.
“Sink or swim was kind of what I was looking for,” he adds.
“It was great learning to have a plan but for it to be then wiped out in two weeks and then have to make a whole new one in a completely different setting and a completely different way.
“It was a really, really good learning curve to experience all that and now that I’m here for this season I’m prepared for anything like that happening again for a smaller or longer period of time.
“We know what to expect so I can do better for the girls now that I have a bit more experience. It was almost a positive thing looking back on it.”
Further postponements of the league and a second lockdown would follow later on in 2020 before 2021 opened with a third and hopefully final lockdown.
“It’s a bit challenging but we have had a bit of practice from the last two, I have a better idea this time about what works and what doesn’t work,” he insists.
“We have them doing home programmes, trying to use bags and suitcases and all sorts to improvise weights but the girls take it on really well.
“Anything I ask them - no matter how random or weird the exercise might be - with a short demo they pick it up pretty quick. They do the home stuff really well and they’re really committed to it.
“This lockdown we have been allowed to do one-on-one sessions in the gym in Bishopstown so in the last week or two, we have got some of the testing done while following all the protocols.
“It’s nice to have some sort of interaction face to face because it’s easier to explain why we’re doing certain things. The most important part is football and I’m just trying to help them perform well and enhance their ability to be better footballers if I can. It’s been going well.”
Long O’Leary has enough experience from playing on the right-wing with Riverstown and Glounthaune United - as well as coaching the latter’s academy - to know what players like and don’t like.
After his playing days were cut short by injury, his attention turned to working with sports science which eventually led to him deciding to study Recreation and Leisure in CIT.
Almost a year to the day, the now third-year student was approached by City women’s manager Rónán Collins to join his coaching staff and his first season ended with the club achieving a top-four finish and an appearance in the FAI Cup final.
Now, for the third time, the online challenges such as who can do the most press-ups in one minute, the leaderboards, and exercises with suitcases have returned as the S&C coach looks for inventive ways to continue the players’ development ahead of the coming season.
“I’m absolutely loving it. Every session, every time I talk about it, I love it,” he enthuses.
“That testing I mentioned earlier, I made a bit of a start on that getting some baseline scores for key metrics that I want to look at for this season.
“I have those so once we are back in pre-season we can hit the ground running straight away and I can put them in programmes to develop their scores.
“The girls went through trojan work last season from the very start all through the lockdowns to the minute we were back on the pitch.
“I can’t wait to get a proper programme running and hopefully a bit more resources, I can’t wait to get back into pre-season, get them going, and see the improvements we can make this season.
“Last season was really successful - getting a top-four finish and reaching the FAI Cup final - and everyone is very hungry to keep progressing to build on it. It’s a very special team of players and coaching staff.”