Meet the team behind the Irish rugby squad travelling to Japan
From nutrition to logistics, there is more to a team than what is seen on the pitch
Some of Ireland’s backroom team of Ger Carmody, Jason Cowman, Willie Bennett, David Hanley, Keith Fox, Dr Ciaran Cosgrave, Dave Revins, Richie Murphy and John Moran pitchside at Solider Field, Chicago in November 2018. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Over the 32 years since the first Rugby World Cup co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia in 1987, nothing has really remained the same. The tournament has gotten bigger, the teams more professional and the global interest broader than ever.
The numbers are both difficult to dispute and difficult to believe with cumulative worldwide television audiences of 300 million for the inaugural tournament reaching a purported billions in latter events. The 2007 edition was said to have a worldwide audience of 4 billion despite the global audience for television to be 4.2 billion.
We may not know the exact number but we do know they have become bigger and bigger.
Seamless and stimulating
Exaggerated figures aside, the teams on the pitch have also become the product of a backroom army of experts all of them picked to make the players lives better served to play and win rugby matches at the higher end of the global scale.
Ireland will have 15 fully accredited backroom staff in Japan with five more, who are not fully accredited. That means they have no access to players on match days but are available to support the squad.
Several members such as the physiotherapists and masseurs will be non-stop from the moment the team touches down in Japan and begins preparation for the first match against Scotland.
The players’ stay off the pitch is expected to be seamless and stimulating – remember the soulless hotel on the outskirts of Bordeaux for the 2007 RWC, where the players became bored and restless – and the backroom team are there to make it that way.
For example Sinead Bennett, the logistics woman alongside Ger Carmody, will probably miss many of the Irish games because she will be working in advance of the team’s arrival at their next hotel. They compete in the tournament, while she organises the hotel to get it set up with the team freight, so when the squad rocks in the following day they are ready to go to work immediately.
There is no lull. There is no wasted time.
“It’s like a travelling little village with about 55 people in the party moving from hotel to hotel with all the kit. All the point-to-point logistics and transitions will be managed,” said an IRFU official.
Time is always short with coaches, doctors and physiotherapists working backwards from match day. If the match is on a Saturday, there’s a team run on Friday, a session on Thursday, a rest day Wednesday and either a Monday or Tuesday session as players recover from the week before or the previous game.
That gives the coaching staff two whole days to prepare the match day squad.
Joe Schmidt does not want the Irish team bus struck in traffic because of an unforeseen event or players forced to spend hours every day travelling because the training venues were not located where the organisers had said they were.
The food is arranged according to good local produce and what nutritionist Ruth Wood-Martin has recommended according to carbohydrate and protein needs. Already a veteran of Japan from the tour two years ago she has travelled there again to visit the hotels and speak to the various chefs.
Mervyn Murphy and Vinny Hammod, Ireland’s technical analysts, use the latest software to monitor the players, providing real time analysis to the coaches and players when they come of the pitch at halftime. They also build up portfolios of the players the Irish face, what props do in scrums, how players carry the ball on the wing, the walk up to lineouts maybe determining what play the opposition are going to make.
They can also provide a sharp insight to the referees and if players are being whistled off the park in the first half can identify exactly what it is they are penalising. They make sure the players have their homework to study opposition players and teams. They are the late to bed and early risers.
The backroom team
Paul Dean – team manager
Dean is more familiar as a former international player but has kept a low profile as manager. The former St Mary’s College player toured Australia in 1989 with the British and Irish Lions and was the out-half on Mick Doyle’s Triple Crown-winning squad of 1985.
His final appearance for Ireland was against Scotland in 1989 and he took up the job of Irish manager in 2016. Prior to that he had been working as a sports consultant and played an active role as a member of the Leinster Professional Game Board.
Dean co-ordinates all the departments and acts like a mini managing director in camp. He’s involved with the budgets of the team, deals with issues within the squad that maybe stressing players and makes sure nothing falls through the cracks.
On match day he manages the replacements and he interfaces with the fourth official as well as attending pre-match meetings and ironing out the running order of the day. He ensures that all of the bits that make up any day at a World Cup are tied together and not least of all is a sounding board as well.
Jason Cowman – strength and conditioning
As rugby changes Cowman is in charge of putting fit for purpose players on the pitch. Around 2003, the trend was for bigger and stronger. Then the game moved on and the focus was for more powerful and agile players, which remains in place but players must also be durable, especially in tournaments.
Getting physical development right is hugely scientific and particular to players and the positions they play.
A low key but highly regarded figure Cowman was educated in Clonkeen College, Dublin before obtaining a degree in Sports Science from the University of Limerick in 1998. He was appointed strength and conditioning coach for the Senior squad in the summer of 2007.
Mervyn Murphy and Vinny Hammod – technical analysts
They do video training, cut it and analyse the game. Every piece of video footage of Ireland and other teams is put into folders so players can see what is there. In a match they get live feed and they can look back and take clips to show what happened in the last scrum or lineout and isolate aspects.
If the scrum is not working they can show players at halftime what is taking place and get a technical fix. Sometimes players are perplexed by referee interpretation and that too is clarified for them at the break.
Murphy, a former professional player with Connacht and capped five times by Ireland ‘A’ has been with the Irish team since 2001, while Hammond played rugby with UCD.
Ciaran Cosgrave – team doctor
Dr Cosgrave joined the IRFU in 2016 having worked as the Leinster Team Doctor for the previous two years. He’s a graduate of Queens University and did an MSc in Sports & Exercise Medicine at Trinity College Dublin.
He trained as a consultant in Sports & Exercise Medicine in Liverpool and came to rugby from the highly professional set up of Liverpool Football Club, where he worked for two years with elite athletes between 2011 and 2013.
He has worked with a wide range of athletes, providing medical cover at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games with involvement also in basketball, Northern Ireland Football, athletics, karate and judo.
In all of the sports he not only provides high quality sports medicine but works closely with athletes and coaches on performance enhancement.
Ruth Wood-Martin – performance nutritionist
She will co-ordinate local cuisine into player menus. Have they got the proteins, have they got the carbs and what carbs do they need, all of that mapped out across a week so the players have variation in what they eat.
She also works within the restrictions of the Rugby World Cup, who pay per head per meal, which means a budget. The team will change hotels every week or so with differences in food provision.
From a consistency, standards and volume point of view and also not wanting to take Japanese chefs out of their cooking comfort zones, that’s a challenge. She has been in Japan already and met all the chefs and set out team requirements for menus. There will be a Japanese option in every meal as part of the food cultural experience.
Prior to joining the IRFU in 2006, her work included consultant nutrition services to the Sports Institute Northern Ireland, the Irish Women’s Hockey squad and Irish Ladies Golf Union.
Keith Fox and Colm Fuller – physiotherapists
The physios and masseurs are the busy bees. The physios do a lot of the pre-hab work to prevent injury as well as treating injuries (with the doctor) as they arise.
They also work directly with Cowman on programs for players so before going out on the park for a training session are “fully activated.” All the players have pre-training programs so they can perform at a high level during sessions without getting injured.
They also work with players recovering from bumps and bruises and strains. They co-ordinate with the doctor on players coming back from more serious injuries. Returning from head injury always has a physio involved in the HIA process. Keith has worked with a number of sporting teams in the UK including Coventry City and Crewe Alexandra and Connacht. Colm, UCC educated, has previously worked with Munster and London Irish.
David Revins and Willy Bennett – masseurs
Players get rubs pre and post training most days. It is one of the key elements of preparation. Pretty much every player uses the masseurs. Massage is seen to be one of the best ways for preventative injury and also recovery.
Rugby is a game of movement and collisions, so there is repetition and bodies operating at stress levels. Massage is also an option if players have repetitive use injuries to muscles.
It can also be used to increase flexibility and performance as well as relieving pain, anxiety, and muscle tension. Revins has worked with Munster Rugby since 2005, while Bennett has previously worked with Galway and Tipperary All Ireland Hurling championship winning teams.
John Moran – kit and logistic co-ordinator
He ensures everyone has match day kit, the right numbers and sizes. That’s the easy bit. Throughout the week all the equipment that is needed at training he gets it there in functioning order and set up – tackle bags, scrum machines etc.
The only time Ireland can wear Vodafone branded kit at the tournament is at training so he has that kit, which the players change into at the venue. Ireland ships a fine if the players wear the wrong kit in the wrong place.
He takes the branded kit off them as soon as they are finished and he’ll have it cleaned and turned around for the next session.
Moran has worked for the IRFU since 2002. He served as baggage master for the summer tour to New Zealand in 2012 and promoted to kit and logistics co-ordinator for the national team in 2015.
David O’Siochain – media and communications manager
The interface between media and the team. The go to person for interviews and access from television, radio, print media, websites and social media. Ireland have a unique broadcast arrangement because of the all Ireland team. That’s dealing with the Republic of Ireland and UK broadcasters, or, five official broadcasters in the Irish and UK market.
Eir, RTÉ television and RTÉ radio in Ireland and BBC Five Live and ITV in the UK. Ireland are the only country with a split jurisdiction. There are also five official broadcast partners for the Japanese market, all with TV rights as well as three radio partners.
The UK have a passing interest in Ireland because of the pool game against Scotland and the possibility of later facing another home nations team. Then of course the Irish media party with particular requirements are also his baby.
Ger Carmody – head of operations
Sinead Bennett – team services
They work together with Carmody in charge of the logistical planning. Both work on the accommodation and train venues. The team has an outdoor and indoor training venue not necessarily in the same place. They map where the hotel and the training bases are located then work schedules in terms of getting from A to B, then back to A and off to C, maybe in traffic.
They work closely with the coaches in terms of the travel pressures as internal travel could be 40 minutes to a training base and 40 minutes back. The gym could be a different venue or the same place which means staying for the day. In that scenario food has to be shipped into the players as well.
They deal with the hotel to ensure what the team needs is there such as ice and team rooms. A lot of their work is with the local World Rugby officials. Carmody, a former Irish team manager, is responsible for the operational and logistical planning for the Irish Team and all Irish Representative teams.
Bennett currently works with the Senior Men’s Team and also provides administrative support to the Head Coach. She has a background in marketing, event planning and is currently studying in the field of psychology.