Letter from London: Surrey comfort allows Ireland keep eyes fixed on the job

Guildford is a quiet enclave far removed from the hustle and bustle of London and the World Cup.


They’re not so much the veins of London as the sprawling roots of some giant tree, snaking around all the flora and soil to make everything in reach part of its universe. So forgive us, true Londoners, when we name towns in another county part of your enormous city.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad are based in the centre of Guildford town this week. It’s not quite as isolated from the Rugby World Cup hype and excitement as the midlands haven of Burton. Yet after the buzz of playing in front of a tournament record crowd, they have again been transplanted to a comfortable distance from the circus.

IMG_0476 Rush hour, Guildford.

The first thing that strikes you on the train from Gatwick to Guildford is the colour. Out the window are rolling green hills with tasteful houses dotted here and there, the larger developments and towns must be hidden away behind the mounds.

Guildford itself is… well, it’s nice.

The centre of the town itself is mostly made up of commercial buildings. Estate agents work after hours in their shop windows trying to get a taste of inflated house prices, students can go for (a cheeky) Nandos and cars calmly roll in and out without much fuss. It’s a far cry from the heart-of-the-city Shelbourne or Cardiff Marriott Irish players frequent closer to matchdays. It’s quiet, removed, just a short bus trip away from the training base in Surrey University and far from the madding “CHAVs” and ‘ello Laaavs.

“It’s a nice change of scenery, another smashing hotel. So no complaints from any of the squad or anything like that,” says Sean Cronin, noting the importance of the variety in Ireland’s cross-country itinerary.

“It does freshen up the back end of the week, after a game, when you’re moving on to a new base. All the training facilities are top notch. It’s good to see what every place has to offer. We’ve had a couple of sessions in the Surrey Sports Centre and that’s top class as well. It’s great to freshen things up and give lads a bit of a rise.”

10 minutes down the railroad, The42 made a nest in Woking. It instantly feels much more like what you expect from a big city. At dusk, lads shout ‘Come on you (insert London football club here)’ at one another, cyclists whistle past, horns beep, and grumpy middle aged men barge in front at every opportunity. There’s a night club next door (closed last night, thanks), a Wetherspoons across the narrow street. Great Britain.

That’s more like it. Noise is reassuring. Variety is the spice of life and it keeps players from the cusp of boredom that any single location is capable of bringing on in the space of six weeks. It keeps them hungry for work, especially those trying to enjoy their first World Cup.

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A view of the gym session Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It is hard to take time to enjoy it. That experience at Wembley, I was a bit nervous and it’s over in a flash,” explains Darren Cave.

“I try sometimes to take stock, but at the same time we’ve plenty of time when I’m old and retired to think back and say ‘that was brilliant, the record crowd.’ The job is to make sure the job is memorable for all the right reasons.

“We’ve done a lot of work and stuff on what we’re thinking and where our head space is at and at the end of the day things that (enjoying the trip) are irrelevant. Everyone’s incredibly proud to be here. Everyone’s aware of how proud everyone in the country is.

“We just want to stay focused on who we’re playing what our role is in the team. And if you get things like that right it doesn’t matter how many people are watching.”

The big green train keeps rollin’ on.

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Sean Farrell

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