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Focus On: Fitness Coach Mike McGurn

Focus On: Fitness Coach Mike McGurn

Much of the talk about the Ireland team in recent years has focused on the importance of the pre-season and the fitness levels of the players. One of the men responsible for that is Mike McGurn, the IRFU fitness and conditioning coach.

Ireland will take the field this evening to play Bayonne in the south of France off the back of a tough pre-season that has involved a complicated fitness and conditioning programme. The man in charge of managing all of the Irish squad’s requirements in this department is Mike McGurn, the IRFU’s fitness and conditioning coach.

A native of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, he has been with the Irish senior team since 2002. A former Irish cross-country and 5,000 metres champion, he has previously worked with rugby league clubs St. Helens, Leeds and Hull, and also the Irish team in the Rugby League World Cup in 2000.

Pre-Season In Spala

Mike took time out from Ireland’s warm weather training in Capbreton this week to speak to IrishRugby.ie about his role and the work of the players in developing their fitness.

“From the players’ pre=season in Spala right the way through each season, I look after the fitness programmes for the Ireland squad members. I work very closely with the provincial fitness staff that do a great job in making sure that the players get the best results from their hard work and arrive for Ireland squad sessions and camps in the best possible shape.”

The now famous (or infamous as many players may call them!) Spala training camps in Poland are the first starting point for the fitness programmes. “Spala allows us to work on the conditioning, speed, power and general rugby fitness of the players and is probably the hardest part of the programme as they are coming in basically after their holidays,” Mike continued. “We had nearly 50 players this year and they worked extremely hard to get through it.”

The players returned to their provinces after that, where Mike would work with the players and also the provincial fitness managers to continue the pre-season programmes. While the Ireland squad is in camp, their fitness programmes are vitally important to keep them at their peak in terms of fitness. “To aid this, the Union have been really proactive in supporting this as we have had a personal gym set up here in Capbreton and will also have one in the team hotel in Bordeaux during the World Cup.”

A Typical Day

The first day in Capbreton on Monday gives a snap shot of what Mike does with the team in terms of their strength and fitness.  “We used the gym in the morning and started with the forwards who were not in the 22-man squad that played against Scotland. We did a power weights session, which entails the players lifting heavy weights very quickly. The exercises would include exercises such as power snatches, clean and jerk and jammer press. An example of the weights they use would be that the average player would lift 130kgs in a power clean.”

The backs who were not in the Scotland games were next in the gym for a more positional session. They would lift less heavy weights but would involve more foot movements to mimic what they would need to do during a match. The Scotland match 22 did similar sessions at 8pm that night to give them a full 48-hour recovery period.

“I monitor the player’s power output through a device that they wear called a fitrodyne. Each lift they perform registers a power reading on it and at the end of each session they can see what levels they have reached.”

Mike McGurn

During training, Mike always takes the warm-up part of the session and on Monday he split the 15 players who started against Scotland to take part in a skills and flexibility session to aid their recovery.

This was then followed by a speed/skill session for the entire squad.

Post training is also a busy time for Mike as he looks after the recovery of the players.

“This is really important as it flushes out all the lactic acid, which builds in the body after exercise. It attacks and fatigues muscles, so we would usually hit the pool for a light swim-specific session. As the team hotel is on the beach, we hit the ocean which the lads loved.”

Co-Ordinated Management

In the overall view of the players’ fitness, Mike points to how well the entire Ireland management team work together to look after the players. “We are constantly bouncing ideas off each other to keep the sessions fresh and keep the players from getting bored. The medical team and I would work on specific programmes for players coming back from injury and the coaching staff would also work with me to tailor warm-ups during training sessions.”

So now we know what goes into the fitness aspect of the Ireland squad and many believe that this Irish squad is the best prepared ever. “In terms of fitness, it really all comes down to the players. They have worked really hard this year in a tighter time frame due to the timing of the World Cup, so hopefully we will be able to see the benefits on the pitch over the next couple of weeks.”