Speaking after Ireland’s 21-7 win against Italy, Aon Player of the Match Claire Molloy was asked how she maintained her fitness and competitiveness during an extended lockdown in 2020. Her response was simple – “Orlaith Curran.”
Orlaith Curran is Athletic Performance Coach for the Ireland Women’s 15s side. Keeping elite international players fit and healthy amid severe restrictions was a unique challenge. Even more of a challenge was preparing them for test rugby after perhaps their biggest ever stint away from the rugby pitch. She was ‘definitely pleased’ to see them emerge victorious in Energia Park.
“Obviously you want them to go out and perform and feel fit and get through a full 80+ minutes of rugby,” she said. “It was a tough opening quarter for us with Italy contesting so well and I was concerned we’d come out of that spell a bit fatigued. Having watched them defend for so long, it was good to see them turn it around and actually power ahead for the rest of the game.”
“You can run them as much as you want but you can’t replicate the same level of contact in a conditioning session. It was great to see them come through that intensity and that contact so well, even though we do have things to work on.”
Ireland’s women were in the same position as everyone else in the first half of the year – keeping active in uncertain times and trying to make sure they’d come out the other side of lockdown in a healthy position.
“The biggest challenge was probably keeping it fresh. Everyone was really welcoming of all the new ideas we had for home workouts.”
“We kept in touch as much as we could and issued programmes on a weekly basis. Don’t get me wrong – we didn’t train every single week. Lockdown dragged on for a long time so we had to give them a break in that time too.
“It was about being together as a unit as well. We had built something really good in the early part of the year and when lockdown came, we couldn’t really replicate rugby, especially the kind of comraderie that you can build on the pitch. So we came up with a number of challenges. Some were fitness related. Some were just about making it fun to keep the groups going.”
The squad have been working out of the IRFU’s High Performance Centre for the past couple of months in preparation for the Women’s Six Nations restart but the return to strict public health measures is not lost on them. Collective training is not currently permitted for adult teams in their clubs and Orlaith is in a position to advise players on how to manage their individual training. While it can be frustrating trying to stay fit away from a team environment, the opportunities are there.
“A lot of the time we can get hooked on lifting the big weights with the fancy training and the heavy exercises,” she says. “Going through lock down, we had to strip it right back to basics. It was about doing the simple things well. That’s what club players have a chance to do.
“They can focus on exercises that rectify niggles or just generally look at improving their athletic performance so they can really hit the ground running when they come back to club rugby.
“Focus on what you can do. If you only have a small garden – great! Work on your acceleration! It’s not something you need a lot of space for. You can work on footwork and agility. House mates can help you work on your change of direction. It’s probably more reflective of what you might do in close quarters on the pitch.
Having helped the Ireland women’s squad through the same situation, Curran is aware of the issues and frustrations that arise. Mindfulness and the ability to adapt are key.
“We worked in six-week blocks that were broken into two sections. Within that the girls trained hard for two weeks and then took their foot off the pedal before going back up the gears. We also issued schedules on a weekly basis so we could be more adaptive. It allowed us to add extras or changing things up, based on where the players were at.
“Also a break can be better than fighting through something. You have to listen to the head as well as the body. It’s fair enough that some mental fatigue could creep in given everything that’s going on at the moment.
“Your body might be in good shape, but you still mightn’t want to have to train on your own in your back garden. It could do you the world of good to take a week away from it and not be overly focused on the rugby.
“You can come back refreshed. Just do what you can when you can.”
Level Up is a new IRFU’s new initiative providing development resources directly for schools and clubs. For more information on the acceleration exercises outlined in Orlaith’s interview, click here.