Monday was all about recovery.  We are learning a lot about recovery and nutrition and these things are controllable that can make us better as a team so it is important we do them as best we can. Tuesday we trained at Blacktown.  Afterwards we took a bus to Sydney and sang on the way there.  The boys thought “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus would be pretty appropriate for me and I even got up and sang along with Alicia Keys for the chorus of “Empire State of Mind”.  Don’t think I am going to win any singing competitions any time soon.

We took a tour of the Swans’ facilities and it was really special because we went while the players had training.  I learned some valuable things about recovery and how no two players really do the same amount of training week-to-week because everyone recovers differently and reacts differently to the workloads of a game.  If I remember rightly, the medical staff take over 100 points of analysis to see how a player pulled up after a game.

I saw Tadgh Kennelly during the tour and told him ‘up the rebels’ because he is from Kerry, the rival county of my parents’ home Cork.  I don’t think he was too happy with the heckling that myself and (fellow Corkonian on the team) Muiris were giving him.

Wednesday we lost to Queensland by three goals in a game that probably could have gone our way if we had a bit more luck.  However, we were very proud of our efforts and especially happy to hear that we had a reputation for being a hard-tackling team that was not easy to play against.  We felt that we were earning some respect and making a name for ourselves.

Thursday we went to Bondi Beach where there was a rip tide that swept us outside the safety flags while we were doing our recovery.  It was a pretty funny story afterwards but it was a little nerve-wracking being outside the flags trying to get back to shore and going nowhere.  Afterwards we went into the Sydney city center.  We went to the opera house, saw the harbor, and even ate with a view of the whole scene, opera house and harbor included.  Add in the fact that it was a beautiful day and I was pretty happy with my time in the city.

Friday we had our last training session at Blacktown.  It was kind of sad knowing we wouldn’t train together as a group again, but also a good reminder of how far we had come along as a unit since when we first met up. Saturday we had our much-anticipated game against the very physical South Pacific team.  Again we were down by 17 points at 3-quarter time (we were down by the same margin against Queensland, too) but we came out victorious.  One of the highlights came before the game even started when both teams did their own Haka.  I posted the video on the New York Magpies facebook page so check it out and ‘like’ the page while you’re at it. Another highlight was Adam ‘Real Deal’ Saad’s absolute belter of a mark in the last quarter.  He denies it, but it was probably hands in the back.

That night we went out together for some Lebanese food.  It was really delicious.  Some of it probably was not the healthiest but we wanted to celebrate with some good food.  The next day we all got on the bus and we were off to the airport and said our goodbyes.  It was sort of an abrupt ending to an amazing experience, but I don’t think anything really quite goes the way you see in the movies.  You just say your goodbyes and thank you to everyone and head home.

Speaking of saying thanks, I just want to take a final opportunity to say “thank you” to some people who played in integral part in my trip.  First to Glenn Ormsby (Coach), Ed McCormick (President) and the New York Magpies for getting me to where I am in footy (and the first coach Rob Oliver) and getting me down to Aus this summer.  Also, I have to thank Rob, Kes, Han, and Locky Oliver (and all of the in-laws) for having me and making my stay an absolute blast.  To Prahran FC and Uni Blacks for letting me train and play with them, especially to Steve Cerni my coach for two weeks with the Blacks who taught me a lot of valuable things about footy and footy culture in the short time I spent with him, thank you.

On the World team I have to thank coaches Chris Johnson and Mick Ablett for being awesome mentors and Peter Romaniw for organizing everything.  Also thanks to everyone else who played a role in the team getting ready for the games and being good teachers and friends: Mick, Nish, Amesy, Schneids, Todd and Johnny.  Thank you to all the clubs who let us use their facilities and to especially Collingwood, Shae McNamara and Jonathon Bernard for taking in a fellow Magpie.  And finally, thanks to the boys on the World Team.  We made for a pretty awesome unit.

Monday morning Rob took me down to Trinity College to meet the team for our week-long camp.  We trained in the afternoon and it went pretty well considering I could only remember about 5 or 6 names.  Just looking through the list of names and countries of origin for the team I was pretty impressed.  Canada, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Turkey, Lebanon, India, Japan, Sudan, Sierra Leone, USA, Pakistan, etc.  A lot of distance had been covered by all of us and now we were expected to become a cohesive unit in just two weeks.

Tuesday morning we had a game at Arden Street versus the u15 Indigenous Allstars.  Their skills were really good and many of them had pace to spare.  In the end we won pretty comfortably and in the process got the first win in the World Team’s history.  Later on we went to the EJ Whitten Legends game at Etihad Stadium.  It was awesome to see so many of the game’s greats out there including our own coach Chris Johnson playing on one field.  One of the highlights was Anthony Rocca’s bomb off two steps from about 75 meters going though post-high.

Wednesday we took a tour of Carlton and did some recovery in their pool.  I think they spent something in the range of $4,000,000 on their facilities so we were really fortunate to get to use them.  We had a little team building session afterwards where different guys volunteered to tell their stories about who they are and how they got into footy.  Then they would take a few questions, the most common one being “What was your first game like”? coming from Abe Kur every single time. Afterwards we had a light training session.

Later on we took a tour of the MCG and spent some time in the museum where they have games and cool historical guernseys, boots, footballs, etc. That night we watched the u18s state team of Vic, SA, and WA play at Etihad.  I think seeing these games helped me appreciate how big AFL players are considering just how fit and built the u18s were.  Thursday we trained at Arden St.  We saw Andrew Swallow, Majak Daw, and Drew Petrie and got to take a few pictures, which was pretty cool. Later on we went to the live screening of the Marnbrook Footy Show.  Cyril Rioli Jr. was the special guest and it was a pretty entertaining show.  I enjoyed seeing how one of these shows works live and what goes into it.

Friday we flew to Sydney and then took a long bus ride to our hotel in Rooty Hill near Blacktown.  Saturday we trained at Blacktown Olympic Park and after watched Vic Metro v WA and Vic Country v SA.  There seems to be a big gap between the size of players in u16 and u18, which is probably a testament to the step up in training and commitment to footy that a lot of these players take as they get older.

Sunday we had our first game of the NAB u-16 Championship against Northern Territory.  Despite being down by 17 points at 3-quarter time we managed to win 89-73.  You would have sworn we won the Grand Final the way we celebrated.  I was happy enough with my own performance, preventing my opponent from being too effective in the forward line.  Apparently Andrew Demetriou saw our post game song in the locker room, which somebody took video of, so I think we are actually having an effect on the perception of international footy.

Monday night I had training with Prahran.  I really feel like I’m getting into a groove with training and my kicking is improving.

Tuesday night I had training with the Uni Blacks.  I did some training with the seniors and the fog was incredible.  We did some kicking drills with anywhere from 20 to 40 meters separating the groups and it was impossible to know who was kicking to you or who you were going to.  Those are the joys of a Melbourne winter I suppose. The pace of training with the seniors is definitely beneficial to improving my skills in a game situation.

Thursday I went into Etihad Stadium for a tour of the AFL headquarters with Peter Romaniw who organized the tour with the World Team.  I was lucky enough to meet a lot of really cool people.  Among them were Kevin Sheehan, a talent scout (more like ‘THE’ talent scout) and creator of the TAC Cup, Peter Schwab, a former player and coach who became head of AFL Victoria and writes for the AFL website, Geoff Gieschen, the head of umpiring, and Chris Johnson, 3 time AFL Premiership winner and coach of the World Team.

I got to see the change rooms and also walk out the race up to the ground for a ground-level view of the place.  It was incredible to view the stadium from that perspective.  Afterwards I made my way over to training with the Blacks 19s on the tram.  We didn’t have great numbers but we did some light touch training anyway.  Saturday I had a game with the Uni Blacks 19s.  We played Old Scotch in a pretty fast-paced game.  In the third quarter we made a really good comeback and thought we may have had a chance to win, but Scotch took the ascendancy again in the last quarter.  The thing that hurt about that loss was that we knew how they were beating us, but failed to stop it like we had in the third quarter.

After the game Steve Cerni let me keep the shorts I wore for the game, which was a great gift.  The blacks have pretty nice gear so I was pumped about that.  I presented him with a New York Magpies jumper to say thanks and just thanked the guys for having me.  I want to take this opportunity again to thank the Uni Blacks, Steve Cerni, and the boys with the 19s for having me and making me feel like part of the club.  I think Patty made some sort of comment about being mentioned in the blog, so there you go, Patty.

Sunday I watched some of the footy in the afternoon.  That night Hannah’s team, the Pandas, had a basketball game in a not-so-serious rec league.  I started off as the only spectator in the gym, but soon assumed the position of coach.   I believe my input was invaluable (probably more like, not-so-valuable).  Afterwards I made a pretty silly decision considering camp with the World Team would start the next day.  I had talked myself up a little telling Han that I could dunk, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to play ball with a few locals and see if I still had it. It all worked out well in the end: we won, I wasn’t injured, and most importantly I dunked twice.  I should thank the Polar Bears for letting me play with them, too.  They were great fun and actually really good. When we got back home Kes’s family was there to celebrate her birthday with a lovely dinner, a rousing happy birthday song, and just an enjoyable get-together.  After dinner I had a kick in the backyard with Kes and Rob’s nephews and niece: Hugh, Henry and Ava.  Since I was the biggest one there, the duty of “kneel down and let everyone try to take speccies on your back” was mine.  I had a really good time with Kes’s family and they are a lot of fun to hang with.

Monday I had my first training session with Prahran AFC, where Rob Oliver is the reserves side coach. The wind blew relentlessly, but the skills were impressive. We did a large chunk of half ground ball movement after doing some handball and ground ball skills. We finished off with a goal kicking competition. I narrowly lost to my partner, which meant I had to do the punishment of 100 pushups, squats, and lying down butt-raises. Some of the winners opted to do some extra running while we did the punishment.

Tuesday afternoon Hannah and I went to the Westpac Center, the home of the Collingwood Magpies. We parked behind the Rod Laver Arena where the Australian Open is held. Rain lashed down on us, so we tried to find a shortcut through the parking lots out to the front of the arena. Luckily, we saw two men dressed in work clothes and asked them the quickest way out to the Westpac. They brought us underneath the arena and we saw a bunch of offices and some of the behind the scenes areas of the arena which was awesome and really lucky. Jonathon Bernard, the Digital Media Coordinator at the club greeted us and brought us inside. Then Shae McNamara, the club’s American recruit, brought us for a little tour of the facilities and explained what a normal week is like. He introduced me to Derek Hine, the head of recruiting. In his office were two players, Jarryd Blair and John McCarthy. I think they were a little surprised to find that I knew their names. Later Nathan Buckley walked by……. and not much more needs to be said about that. I also met Paul Licuria, former player and current team manager of the VFL side and got a picture. I have to give a shoutout to Jason, Domenic, and Wiggo in the video edits department because I told them where they could find my blog so hopefully they see this. Shae treated us to hot chocolate and we just chatted about footy, sports, Melbourne, Shae’s blog he plans to create, and a bunch of other things. It was something that will stick with me for life. I am really grateful to the Collingwood Football Club for having me and to Jonathon Bernard, Shae, Glenn Ormsby, and Hannah Oliver for the transport and picture taking.

Tuesday night I had my first session with the Melbourne University Blacks u19s. The ground was soaking wet making running no easy task. My skills were shaky at best when we started, probably from nerves and the rain. However, once we started a game simulation I stopped focusing so much and just started playing. I dropped a few marks, but also took some pretty good grabs, and I made some pretty good leads. I just enjoyed playing footy with people my own age. The boys were all very welcoming and we finished off with some snaps from the boundary line to get used to that type of shot in those conditions should we ever find ourselves in that situation in a game. Then Steve Cerni, coach of the u19s, brought me over to the senior training session to see how they went about preparing for an important game and assessing where they were at mid-season. Everyone spoke honestly about how they felt they were adhering to the club’s rules and beliefs. It was all very professional and impressive, but there were a few laughs mixed in as well. The way they approach footy motivates me to improve my own game.

Wednesday morning my groins were really tight. I think that it was due to how heavy my boots and socks were with the rain. I went for a walk to see a bit of the neighborhood and get familiar with the street names. In the afternoon I went to training at Rob’s club to get a rub down to try and loosen up those muscles. Apparently I do not have much flexibility in that area, so it is something I can work on when I have nothing else to do.

Thursday I participated in a little bit of training with the Blacks u19s. My legs still felt sore so I did not do too much. After training, the senior team had their selection meeting. Before they announced the team, though, they had a bit of fun at the expense of a few of the guys at the club. They also had a competition to see which volcano would win in a fight between last year’s eruption at Eyjafjallajökull, and this year’s eruption at Puyehue. Naturally, since the competition was judged in Australia, Puyehue won.

Friday morning Rob and I went to Collingwood training to watch how they go about their business. First we watched Shae and the reserves. It is pretty amazing that you can just waltz up and watch the top-level players of AFL train. Shae and I had a little bit of a chat about how he is expected to move on the field and where the ball moves. He told me who to watch during the senior session, too. By the time we finished talking we were about half-way down the path that goes back to the Westpac Center where the players come out and the seniors were making their way out to training. So I ended up walking back down the path right behind all the senior players like it was no big deal, but I was pretty amazed at how lucky I was with the timing of it all.

Saturday morning I had my first game with the Uni Blacks 3rd side. We were clearly fitter than our opponents, but they used their size pretty well. In the first quarter I fumbled the ball a few times from nerves and just not really focusing. The second and third quarters were much better and I hit a few leads and even had a goal after the second quarter siren. We won by a little over 40 in the end, and despite the ground being pretty soggy the boys moved the ball around well. The pace of the game is quicker than in New York so I am looking forward to playing with the u19s next Saturday which should be another step up in pace.

Sunday I watched footy and had dinner with Lisa and Keith and their kids who are in-laws on Kerryn’s side of the family. Lisa is a great cook and I had my fill. The good food helped take the bad taste out of my mouth left by the Crows’ 52-point loss to Geelong. They probably cannot do any worse than their first quarter effort, so I am cautiously optimistic about seeing some good efforts for the rest of the year.

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