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Steven McDonnell: Training ground battles made me sharper for challenge of the Championship

Enda McNulty was exactly the type of defender you wanted marking you because he simply made you a better player. Speed and sharpness of mind was very much to the forefront of his game.
BY STEVEN McDONNELL

AS a player, you are always trying to find that edge that adds something different to your game. Being a forward all my career, and particularly an inside forward, I found that working on my speed in the summer months always gave me that platform to play and think a bit sharper.

I’m a firm believer that if your hands and feet are working faster, then your thought process will also be improved on. People had the perception that I was a fast corner-forward but this could not be further from the truth. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t by any means slow, but I wasn’t blessed with the pace that Mickey Linden or Diarmaid Marsden had.

In training when we were working on sprints, I came up against Kieran McGeeney a lot. The competitive edge kicks in and you always want to win. We had some arguments over the outcome of many races but the fact was that he beat me nine times out of 10, even though I was never going to go down without a fight. My simple answer to him was, "Put a ball in front of us and see who gets to it first."

My reaction to a ball coming in was sharp and I could turn faster than most players, so this is exactly where I earned my yard against my opponent. I knew I had a sharp turn and I was equally comfortable turning to my right as I was to my left so this was an area that I constantly wanted to focus on.

Our in-house training matches were always played at a high tempo to prepare us for the heat of Championship and myself and Enda McNulty used to have serious head-to-head battles during these games. He was exactly the type of defender you wanted marking you because he simply made you a better player. He was strong and fast and he reacted well when the ball was coming in. He did not always wait for a forward to make a run before he made his move so he anticipated things well.

At that particular time, Enda was among the best man-to-man markers in the game and it's no coincidence that speed and sharpness of mind was very much to the forefront of his game. He loved the physical aspect of the game too and most evenings, he tried to impose this onto me.

I loved it and we came to blows a lot of the time but we always walked off the field on good terms. The fact of the matter was that he was improving my game and I was improving his game. We were both at the top of our games at that time and were in a fortunate position that we could improve each other. He prepared me well for what I would face on a Sunday afternoon in Clones from any type of opponent, and this is why that extra bit of sharpness always paid dividends.

I found by doing lots of ladder and hurdle drills, along with short and sharp shuttle runs, that I improved my speed and turn off the mark. Corner-forwards are forever checking their runs so that explosiveness of a shuttle run can be very effective when trying to lose a man. Ladder work, for me, was really important and I believe that by doing these fast feet and fast hand movements through the ladders, it helped me improve my speed, my agility and balance and also my explosiveness to break away and gain possession of the ball.

You obviously can’t score if you don’t have the ball in your hands so working on areas to make sure I had the best chance of getting the ball in my possession was paramount to my game. My game was about scoring so I had to make sure I was doing my job for the team or someone else would take my place. It was that simple.

In the competitive environment that we were in with the Armagh team of the Noughties, there were many quality players waiting in reserve to snap up a place and I had to make sure that place was not mine. Trying to think one or two moves ahead of the play was important so that’s when I knew I could hold my run or make my move. When I made my move, I had to make sure I was making it to gain a yard or two on my man so I could create a scoring opportunity a bit easier than if I had a man hanging off me.

My job was made easier when certain players like Aidan O’Rourke, Kieran McGeeney, Paul McGrane and John McEntee had the ball as I knew they were definitely going to deliver it in. When you have that trust in your team-mates, everything works a lot smoother.

Certain positions require players to do different things to help improve them, but regardless of what position you play on the field, speedwork and agility work during these months will most definitely help any player.

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