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O' Connor Scales Heights In Coaching

Alan is a strength and conditioning coach, who basically started this career path quite literally by pure accident.

In 2001 Alan had a very successful running career. He was involved in a workplace accident which resulted in him having a crush injury, which in turn, ended his running career. This was a very tough time for Alan. From being somebody who trained six days a week, to suddenly not be able to train at all was heart-breaking. Later that same year, he got a phone call from Gerry Tarrant which was to change his life for the better. Up to this point, he had no real involvement in coaching.

Gerry asked him to help out in coaching the under 21 Cahir football team and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

This led up to 2003 when Pat O'Brien and Colm O'Flaherty along with Gerry Tarrant contacted him and asked him to help as a fitness coach for Cahir Senior Footballers. That same year, they won the County Final for the first time in their history. Alan stayed with them until 2005. Alan received great experience with this Cahir team. “They were a great team.” He learned a lot from Pat, Gerry and in particular Colm O Flaherty who had massive experience in coaching at intercounty level.

When Alan started his career as a strength and conditioning coach, he had his own theories which he was happy to run with. He could see that what he was doing was working, but he really didn't know if it was the correct way to coach. Was he trying to reinvent the wheel? Throughout his life, the name Paudie Roche was very familiar to him. Paudie was a friend of Alan's brother Gary, and as result of his new career, their paths crossed in a coaching capacity. According to Alan, the advice given to him by Paudie was invaluable, and helped him immensely in progressing in his career.

In 2008 Paudie encouraged Alan to embark on a strength and conditioning course in Setanta College. This was a five year degree course and was achieved through distance learning as well as weekly training. He graduated with honours in 2013. Dr Liam Hennessy was the co-ordinator of this degree course. In 2008 he was also involved with the Cahir Senior Footballers and they were the County Final Runners Up. This was his most disappointing day in coaching.

In 2010 he was involved with the Tipperary Minor Hurling Team. In September of the same year he got a call from David Power offering him a role as a strength and conditioning coach with the Tipperary Minor Football Team. In 2011, they won the Munster and All Ireland finals and in 2012 retained the Munster Title. While all of this is going on, Alan was still studying hard, believing that continuous learning is a key factor in keeping up with trends and constantly extending his knowledge and expertise in his field.

In 2013 he received a phone call from Peter Creedon. This time the offer was for the role of strength and conditioning coach for the Tipperary Senior Football Team. Naturally enough, he took the role, but he found that it was a very steep learning curve for him and a tough year. He was doing both the gym based training as well as the field based training, and found this to be both challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Also in 2013 he was asked to take on a coaching role with Loughmore Castleiney in Tipperary. For the first time ever in the county, this club achieved success in both the hurling and football county finals.

In 2014 he was back with David Power again with the Tipperary Under 21's football team, while also still coaching Loughmore Castleiney. This year also proved to be a very successful one for Loughmore Castleiney retaining the football title for the first time in their history while missing out in the hurling final to Thurles Sarsfield. This made it three county final wins out of four in two years. As if Alan wasn't busy enough, he also got involved in the Under 8's ladies football and camogie teams. Both of his daughters, Grace and Amy are very involved with underage GAA, and Alan felt it was only fair to give back to his community and to his very supportive family. He says that without the support and encouragement of his wife Christine, his children and his dad Eamon, none of what he has achieved would have been possible. He also helped out with the under 10's and 12's boys hurling and football in 2014.

In the latter months of 2014, his colleague David Power once again got in touch with him, offering him a role with the Wexford Senior Footballers as their strength and conditioning coach. After long discussions and much consideration, he eventually accepted this role. From his past experience with the Tipperary Senior Footballers, he decided to concentrate on field coaching rather than both gym and field work. Another coach did the gym work with the team instead. He is currently still the strength and conditioning coach for the Wexford team.

In 2015, while still holding the position with Wexford, he returned to his native Cahir, to take up a role with the Cahir Senior Footballers, and was also still heavily involved with the underage teams in Cahir, still having family playing with some of the teams.

This year, 2016, he holds the Wexford coaching position, is back with Loughmore Castleiney and the underage teams in Cahir. The fact that Alan has two daughters means he is aligned to Cahir camogie and ladies football, more so than the men's club, where he is with the under eight's ladies football and the under ten's camogie girls. This will be the future for him while the girls stay playing. He says he learns more at this level than at adult level. “It keeps you grounded and is very rewarding when you see a child improving and most of all, having a smile on their faces while playing.” He also says “There are great people working underage at all levels in Cahir and it's important to acknowledge their great work.”

In January 2016, he received a call from Carol Keating, the selector of the Cahir Intermediate Camogie team, asking him to do a one off coaching session with the team, in preparation for the All Ireland Semi Final game. However, he stayed with them for the rest of the campaign as he was so impressed with the girls and the backroom set up. The ladies went on to win the All Ireland Final. He says that he felt that these ladies, from Number 1 to 30, have something very special going on. It's hard to put words on, but he has seldom felt such inspiration from a team. They went from Junior B camogie, to Senior in a mere three years. When the current team was playing Junior B, there were not even enough players on the team, and often times coaches had to fill in as players. Against all the apparent odds, they were victorious over very strong teams from Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny and Galway. He said that on the day of the final, they were so calm and collected, “The atmosphere of the team felt just like a close knit family”. They worked so hard coming into the final. These girls gave one of the most complete performances on the biggest stage Alan has seen. Alan's coaching philosophy is simple "Work rate beats talent, when talent doesn't work”. An athlete can have all the talent in the world but work-rate is most important. His coaching philosophy is very player central, in that the player is the most important part, and the coach is the facilitator. A coach's words, particularly to kids, are very important as the wrong words said could destroy a child. Coaches play a huge role in the development of a child mentally and physically. He told the ladies before the final, “While you have the ball, you have your All Ireland medal, but while they have the ball, they have your All Ireland medal.”

When he was coaching the Tipperary Minor Hurling team in 2011, he was approached by a number of parents, who voiced their concerns that he was not training the team hard enough. However, he avoided changing his strategy. He was very aware that within the team, there were eleven dual players, as well as many of the team also having club commitments. After the team's success in the All Ireland Final, those same parents approached him once again and apologised for their criticism of his coaching methods. He thinks that one should always stay true to what one believes. Expectations are very high at senior level. In 2015, Wexford got relegated in the Allianz National League, so this year he says that it will be a tough battle to get promoted again, but “You get used to pressure” and “having an open-minded manager, always helps you as a coach.”

I asked Alan who was the best player he ever work and he himself broke it into categories. The most mentally tough player and one that fits perfectly into Alan's coaching philosophy is former Tipperary footballer, Colin O'Riordan, who now plays professionally for Sydney Swans in Australia. His work ethic is massive both on and off the pitch. The most complete footballer, who now happens to be one of Tipperary's core players on the hurling panel is Steven O'Brien. And the most skilful hurler is Tipperary native Noel McGrath.

When I asked Alan what his dream job would be, he again split this question. His part time dream job would be to take up the role of being the Tipperary Senior Hurling Team's strength and conditioning coach. And his ultimate dream job? To be the Aston Villa strength and conditioning coach! Having being an Aston Villa fan all of his life, this would be a dream come true. The All Blacks rugby team is a team that Alan has read a lot about. Their work ethic and humility is a lesson for all athletes. This team fascinates him.

As previously mentioned, there are a number of people with who Alan has crossed paths with during his career and without whom he would not be as successful as he is. Top of the list has to be Christine, his wife who has to listen to him when things are going wrong, but who always supports him, and more often than not tells him to keep the head up and work harder. His daughters Grace and Amy and his extended family have been a tremendous support to Alan throughout his career. The likes of Gerry Tarrant, Pat O'Brien and in particular Colm O'Flaherty who Alan learned a lot from, are the men he has huge respect for. Jim Lynch I another man that Alan has a huge respect for as a coach and a mentor. He was a big help to Alan. David Power, manager of the Tipperary Minor football team, who offered him the position of the team's strength and conditioning coach. Paudie Roche who encouraged Alan from the very beginning of his career. And finally, Marie Casey, Mary Howard and Carol Keating of the Cahir Camogie Management Team who gave him the opportunity to coach the very successful Cahir team. The family unit ethos within the All-Ireland champions, that is, Cahir Intermediate Camogie Team, is because of these ladies.

Alan can be contacted on alanoconnor82@yahoo.co.uk or on 083 1274 576