Garry Haylock: 'I can only imagine what my career would have looked like if I had trained like players today'

Sat, Feb 25 2017

Pre-season training is no longer the source of dread it once was for players. Credit: Extratime.ie

The first game is nearly upon us. The stadiums will have had at the very least a lick of paint and a really good tidy-up. The grass has grown thick and lush with no heavy-footed athletes trampling everything down.


The supporters will feel that they have a chance this year. Usually those expectations will be just a little more than is actually believed.


But with no defeats and, regardless of how the last campaign ended, there is not a fan in the world who doesn’t dream a little about emulating Leicester and defying the odds.


In the boardroom, the manager will have been pragmatic and tried to dial down those expectations, even as he allows himself to think that those new signings are going to hit the ground running, or maybe the disappointments from last year have stepped up and are firing on all cylinders.


The pundits will dissect all the new players, compare and contrast across the board, come up with some hard-nosed predictions and then make sure that they have their excuses ready when it is proven that they really do know very little!


And what of the players? I can tell you that back in the dark distant past, when I had more hair and less of a gut, my feeling approaching the first game was – thank heavens, no more running!


When I finally finished playing in 2006 it was the thought of another pre-season that finally did for me. My knees were punishing me after every game and training session and I couldn’t bring myself to put my creaking body through it again.


My first professional pre-season was with Huddersfield Town in 1987 and what a baptism of fire! As a raw 16-year-old, the first three days we ran 8 miles, 10 miles and 12 miles. We didn’t see a ball until a week before the season began.


To say we were undercooked was an understatement – we were relegated in March, conceded over 100 goals and lost a league game to Man City 10-1. We were an embarrassment.


Thankfully, that was as bad as it got for the rest of my career.


Looking back over the years there seemed to be little change: you ran lots early and gradually the footballs were introduced, then the games started and the intensity lessened.


I am sure that there were clubs that were more advanced than others, but so many seemed to just stick to tradition with the view of “well that’s how we’ve always done it, so why change?”


The words 'Barnett’s Park' strike fear in to the hearts of a generation of Linfield players. This was where the first Saturday of pre-season was spent and you ran up and down this hill until a set number of players were physically sick. Seriously!


When Trevor Anderson became manager of Dundalk, this tradition was brought south of the border, and all the players were brought north for a 'fun day out.' Unfortunately, I picked up a slight hamstring injury which meant I couldn’t take part. I don’t think he ever forgave me.


It wasn’t until I spent a year in Greece that I experienced something approaching what is now recognisable at professional clubs.


No runs over 4 minutes, excellent SAQ programme, no high intensity runs over 80 metres, two shorter sessions per day, VO2 testing, explosive weight circuits and footballs out from the first day.


I felt so much quicker and fitter throughout that season and on my return to Shelbourne, an old friend questioned whether I had been taking drugs as he thought I looked 2 yards quicker.


I can only imagine what my career would have looked like if I had trained like that for the duration of my time in professional football.


Now I am seeing GPS tracking systems, sports scientists analysing the number of high intensity runs in training, video analysis of practice matches and so on and so on.


Which are all fantastic developments but I have to wonder if the pendulum has now swung too far, with training being dictated by the numbers and not what can be seen by the experienced eye.


Not that I am advocating a return to Dermot Keely’s favourite session, which was four cones in a square with him standing in the middle with a whistle and his watch and you ran until he thought you couldn’t run anymore! But there has to be a balance and I am not sure that we are there yet.


So, when you are watching the upcoming start of the league, and your team concedes an early goal... before you start to hurl abuse at the players who are making mistakes, spare a thought for the 6-8 weeks of training that they have endured to make the team and cut them some slack!