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Dublin: 11°C Saturday 31 October 2020
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Christmas Day training: A player's perspective

Don’t forget your shovel if you’re going to festive work.

Paddy Jackson, David McGuigan and James McKinney clear snow from the pitch at Ravenhill in 2010.
Paddy Jackson, David McGuigan and James McKinney clear snow from the pitch at Ravenhill in 2010.
Image: ©INPHO/Presseye/Matt Mackey

THE ULSTER PLAYERS certainly have to pull their weight before making it into the senior team.

An 18-year-old Paddy Jackson was drafted in over the Christmas holidays in 2010 and given a shovel – there was a game against Leinster to be played and a pitch-load of snow to clear at Ravenhill.

Inter-provincial clashes have been a mainstay of the rugby supporter’s calendar since the introduction of the Celtic/Magners/Pro12 league.

Neil Best is plying his trade with Worcester Warriors now but he played six times for Ulster before Santa even had his boots off and his feet up.

He told TheScore.ie, “We train Christmas Eve and play on Boxing Day – it has been that way for 11 years.

I’m pretty organised now but you’d be surprised the amount of times Santa drops off a present that isn’t put together.”

Best and his Warriors teammates are scheduled to play Sale Sharks in Salford on 28 December but he assures us he will not be slacking come meal-time on the big day.

“I’m definitely going to have the full works.” Best remarked, “All the trimmings. It’s sacrosanct.”

Christmas in a hotel room

The League of Ireland has moved to a ‘summer season’ since 2003 so the majority of our footballers can enjoy guilt-free sherry trifles.

Mark Quigley of Shamrock Rovers spent two seasons in England with Millwall before returning home in 2005.

Quigley, who won the Airtricity title with Sligo last season, said, “We’re in the gym and doing some light work two or three days a week but it is great to have Christmas off.” He added:

Away games [with Millwall] would be a nightmare as you would have to get on the coach on Christmas Day and spend that night in a hotel.

“I was young at the time so it didn’t bother me too much but a lot of the lads had families. It was tough for them.”

Christmas box

Kenneth Egan is in training for the National Boxing Championships in February 2013 and is determined to win the light heavyweight title he could not wrest from Joe Ward earlier this year.

If that means abstaining some of the seasonal festivities, says Egan, so be it.

Egan fails to connect with Joe Ward at the national championships in February. (©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)

“I want to celebrate next year so I don’t mind taking it easy over Christmas,” he said. “Last year I went out for a jog and dad a couple of miles. There was no traffic on the roads at all.”

Egan added, “It’s been that way for years. I’m 31 on 7 January and, because of the training, I haven’t celebrated my birthday in years. I didn’t even had a 21st.”

Darren O’Neill, captain of Ireland’s boxers at London 2012, describes ‘a strange situation’ at his family’s home.

“I train every Christmas morning, out for a run; generally just the once, but I might go twice, the day can get a little bit boring,” he said.

I’ll still have a feed, I just have to be careful not to overdo it. Mam will look after me, it’ll be low-fat everything.

“I’ve been senior boxing since 2005, so this is my eighth year doing it, I don’t know anything else around Christmas.”

Big Phil calls it Boxing Day

Cricketers have been taking part in tours over the festive period, with Australia and Sri Lanka the two teams scheduled to play their second test match in Melbourne from 26 December.

Ireland cricket coach Phil Simmons, who played 26 Tests for the West Indies, has experienced his fair share of tours as North Pole preparations are kicking into gear.

“I was involved in a few (festive tests) as a player,” said Simmons.

Anywhere in the world, a Boxing Day test match is a big thing, so it was something you used to look forward to as a player.

He added, “I’ll definitely watch a Boxing Day test match. There’s the Twenty20 in South Africa this year and a Boxing Day test in the MCG [Australia] is always huge.

“If it’s not the West Indies, I always try to watch the first hour at least before I go asleep. It’s always been a big part of Christmas.”

Darren Gough leads the England cricketers out for Christmas Day training in Durban, South Africa. (Jon Buckle/EMPICS Sport)

Taunts from abroad

We will leave you off where we picked you up, at the humble rugby player.

Danie Poolman of Connacht has set his sights on playing for Ireland in three years and has got off to a good start with a couple of crucial tries.

The South African is determined to make a success of his move to our shores but we must check back in with him after his first Irish winter. His friends, Poolman reveals, will not make it easy for him.

“I have been following this competition for years so know I will be in for Christmas Day training,” he said. “I have spoken to some of the lads about it and they told me it will not be easy.

“I’m sure I will be getting phone calls on the day and friends sending pictures from beaches saying ‘Pity you can’t be here’.”

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Patrick McCarry

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