Pompey primed, unified and prepared after Irish excursion

The Pompey players are put through their paces during their pre-season training camp in Ireland
The Pompey players are put through their paces during their pre-season training camp in Ireland
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Contrasting managerial traits, yet succeeding in identifying common ground – Ireland.

Pompey returned to the Emerald Isle following a two-year summer sabbatical. Some personnel remained, yet the man at the helm had altered.

In July 2016, Paul Cook escorted his squad to the Johnstown Hotel in County Meath for pre-season preparations.

Operating a work hard and play hard mantra, the team spirit generated from an eventful week-long stay carried the Blues to the League Two title during the season’s dying breath.

Ireland was also the preference of Cook’s successor Kenny Jackett, whose previous encounter with the Fota Island Hotel during Wolves days convinced him to head back.

Yesterday Pompey returned from their six-day excursion, hopefully primed for a campaign which many within the club are targeting for a play-off minimum.

Jackett had declared an alcohol ban, declined to allocate a day off and instructed there was to be no participation on the adjourning three golf courses.

The five-star complex’s Deerpark Course, in particular, has hosted the Irish Open three times.

The antithesis to that Cook summer, yet no less effective from a manager highly-experienced in the art of promotion and the epitome of organisation.

That is where comparisons must now emphatically end. Jackett is his own manager and his methods deserve to be assessed on their own standing.

Professional, thorough and coordinated, the former Swansea boss was adamant the Irish trip would focus on work. Team spirit, he believes, is largely escalated by winning.

What unfolded was his squad of 24 challenged with double sessions in often fierce heat amid varied training sessions, including Tuesday afternoon’s boxing session with kitman Kev McCormack. 

There was a 1km staggered run on one occasion, yet,  overwhelmingly, the ball dominated work, whether shape, shooting, passing or 10v10 match scenarios.

Certainly, speaking to the players, to a man they applauded the emphasis on ball work as opposed to distance running.

Approaches to training have altered over the years, with many concluding for infinitely better.

Of the new boys, Lee Brown is a dominant figure. His voice circulating the pitch and adding leadership skills the squad so lacked during the injury-hampered second period of last season.

It was Brown who took it upon himself to track down Jackett and plead for the squad to be handed permission to head into Cork town centre to watch England’s clash with Colombia.

Alas, the arrival from Bristol Rovers lacked the necessary persuasion, with the players instead allowed to take residence in the golf club bar for the match’s duration.

The 16 who congregated in that particular location admirably abided with the manager’s instructions to consume only water.

Remaining members of the squad, including skipper Brett Pitman, Nathan Thompson and inseparable pair Jack Whatmough and Luke McGee, instead opted for the bigger screen in the physio’s room.

Incidentally, the physio’s room also contained a pool table and table-tennis table to help alleviate any moments of increasing boredom throughout the week.

Although, room-mates Whatmough and McGee often retired to their room to consume episodes of Penn & Teller delivered by YouTube, attempting to work out the tricks on show. Sometimes Dragon’s Den was an alternative.

Sharing with Brown was Tom Naylor - another with obvious leadership skills on the training pitch and sure to be a massive voice in the dressing room.

Other newcomers are the highly-affable Craig MacGillivray, a Scot with a North Yorkshire accent, and Ronan Curtis, a Irishman with a South London lilt.

Curtis’ parents attended the 4-1 friendly victory over Cork City, situated among the Pompey travelling faithful.

With McGee prowling the hotel in search of playing cards on Thursday’s final night, it was clear it was time to return home.

Pompey do so as a squad united, primed and in Jackett’s dependable hands.