Hard work paying off for Benji’s boys

THE TOUGHEST: Nire manager Benji Whelan ahead of the AIB GAA Munster SF Club Championship final against Austin Stacks. Picture: Brendan Moran

The Nire manager Benji Whelan believes an innovative approach to their physical preparations is the secret behind their progression to Sunday’s Munster club football decider against Austin Stacks.

The Kilmacthomas native was previously involved with the strength and conditioning for the Waterford minor hurling team and U21 footballers.

And he brought that knowledge with him to the Ballymacarbry side — though his early policy of hill runs and a different approach to weights training wasn’t universally welcomed at first.

“There was a little bit of head scratching and a few questioning glances! But fellas respond well to being challenged. If you can bring the challenge to them in the right way and be respectful of them while they’re doing it and continue to challenge them and test them, they love it.

“Once they can see an improvement in themselves and once they can see a reward, then it becomes even more exciting for them. One of the things that I needed to do this year was to find a new way of challenging them.

“One of the things I would have used very frequently was hill runs. It’s just so testing mentally and physically. We’ve done a good bit of them but we haven’t overdone it.

“We’ve done a nice bit of gym work as well and introduced them to some Olympic lifting and things like that. They thrived on that kind of thing and enjoyed it. It was just another way of changing the setting.

“It’s as much a mental thing as anything and being able to take setbacks and move on because you know that you are mentally strong enough to cope with the demands going to be placed on you.”

Whelan was particularly pleased by their mental strength following an the concession of an early goal against Cratloe in the provincial semi-final.

“One thing I always gauge a team by is how they react to setbacks. When we suffered the early goal with the sloppy kickout or miscommunication, we went straight back up and retaliated with a good score ourselves.

“Shortly afterwards, we got the goal. The second goal that Cratloe got, it’s extremely difficult to defend against that. Just to suffer that once in the game was testament to how the defence tightened up after that and really got a grip. The most pleasing thing about it was that we did suffer a couple of setbacks but just kicked on ourselves.”

The backing of the home crowd drove them forward during that extra-time thriller in Dungarvan. The Nire boss senses that supporters of all clubs in the county want to see them prosper and achieve a first provincial title.

“The one thing I would say about Waterford football people is that they are eager for someone to take football by the scruff of the neck and show the rest of the counties in Munster that Waterford can compete. In the back of their minds, club teams typically come out of the county and perform very well in the Munster championship and have a good record.

“I think it’s a little bit frustrating for those people not to see the county team kick on. My dad was at the match, he goes to most of the games, and he is a big GAA man. He was saying on the way home that he was pleasantly surprised that you had Stradbally, Ballinacourty, Rathgormack and lots of people from very strong clubs around coming out to support The Nire. They are supporting football and they are supporting Waterford football. Long may it continue and I hope we have a good band of people up in Cork to support us on Sunday.”

Nine players featured in the 2006 final defeat to Dr Crokes and that offers further incentive on Sunday.

“There is a real feeling that they let that one slip,” Whelan admits. “Part of the problem going into that game was that it was an achievement in itself to get there in the minds of the players.

“We have been eager to dampen that down and ensure that the players are focused on the ultimate goal which is to be the number one club in Munster. I think we have it within our remit to do that job. It will be very difficult but certainly it is one of the motivating factors that there is unfinished business in that department.”


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