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By RUTH FAHY

Let's face it, the time one has to play sport at a high level is relatively short.

So given the commitments required, the travel and lack of financial reward in women’s football, it has to be a source of enjoyment. I am allowing myself to enjoy every moment this season, both the ups and inevitable downs, and it has been a refreshing and recommendable attitude.

This weekend’s Continental Tyres Women's National League fixture away to Cork City WFC is a welcome one for me, given my recent adoption of the Leesider title (working in the Rebel county). Although Friday night will require a round trip to Carlow for training, so I am gifted with an entire day on Saturday to kick back and relax before Sunday's game.

To 'kick back and relax' was never something that I was great at; indeed it used to be an alien concept to me. I never quite nailed the work/college life – sport balancing act and the last few years have been more of a non-stop roller-coaster with little rest or recovery in between.

Last year, in particular, was slightly manic. Up in the morning to study / do coursework, cycle to college for a full day’s lectures or labs, training or a gym session at some stage, cycle home. Then an internship on some evenings. Fridays consisted of a similar routine with the added bonus of a bus journey from Dublin to Galway, where I hopped directly into another vehicle for the extra journey to Headford for training. I was then up early to plan for coaching on the Saturday and a match on Sunday. Oh and then I had to study for a Sports Nutrition cert that I completed last June in Texas. And, finally, I went straight into work placement before our UEFA Women's Champion’s League qualifiers with Wexford Youths.

Just a bit manic. But, monitor the routines of most players and such a pattern is probably the standard life. The key for maintaining such a tempo is to take breaks when afforded them, and to schedule down time regularly. Since my return from Australia in 2013, two back-to-back seasons of this life, with zero holidays (all holiday time taken from my job in 2013-14 dedicated to studying chemistry, we won’t go there!) eventually took its toll. After a combination of setbacks earlier this year, I was instructed to take time off. Ironically, I was unemployed at the time, but totally and utterly burned out.

It is often stated in sport that your body is your most important asset; but taking care of this prized possession will not be possible without mastering the health of your mind first. Progress in any walk of life is impossible without such, and sometimes taking the foot off the gas every now and then can be a key tool for maintaining focus and performance.

Of course, key also to maintaining performance in sport when enveloped in such a schedule is minding, or managing, your body. Playing every weekend in an increasingly physical League is tiring, as is training in a competitive environment. Appropriate recovery is absolutely vital for injury prevention and performance, in both a physical and mental sense.

Making the conscious effort to complete tasks such as ice baths, foam rolling, proper cool down etc. are all standard, but sometimes it is simply rest that is required. My sponsor, Pure Athlete, a sports recovery brand, is headed by the very knowledgeable performance coach Greg Muller. He is a New Zealand native, so, naturally, we talked once of the All Blacks and their unshakeable domination on the world stage. His view of their success in the last two Rugby World Cups was, he thought, not down to fitness, but 'freshness'.

This freshness is something which I think will be a largely determining factor throughout the WNL this season. The period from January to the end of April will be challenging, with extra games to squeeze in and plenty of travel to complete. Maintaining an injury-free squad throughout will be a massive advantage to any team competing.

For me, two of the most important factors in determining my energy levels and fitness are sleep and nutrition. Travelling makes these two pillars a little more challenging. Luckily we are well looked after at Ferrycarrig Park by our very own Masterchef Dave Cassin, who ensures a hot meal awaits us all after a cold Tuesday evening training - a life saver before the spin back to Cork. I’m also lucky to be currently employed by a team of massive sports enthusiasts who offer flexible working hours. My boss even offered that I take the few days leading up to the recent Continental FAI Women's Cup Final off, in order to be 100 per cent ready (what a legend!).

But such work arrangements are rare, and what if I did not have such understanding employers, and a job which demanded overtime and unavoidable weekend work? Where projects required an extra weekend day’s work, and rest or the opportunity to mentally switch off was simply not possible?

I used to think that it could all be done… but realistically, prioritisation will become inevitable. That’s why it’s so important to enjoy every moment on the pitch as a player. And I certainly intend to. 

 

Here is a list of previous columns...

A brand new start
Timing makes all the difference
-
 Moving clubs and moving on
- Time to change perceptions
- Good coaching makes great players
- Why girls play football
- A level playing field
- It had everything...and more

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