In seeking to cover all bases in preparation for this summer’s World Cup, Scotland manager Shelley Kerr has had an impressive sounding board. For Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill rang her up to volunteer to supply her with pointers he gained from his experiences with his country in Euro 2016. It was a chance gleefully seized upon by Kerr, with the pair since meeting up.
Living out of a hotel that acts as a base camp for a month, as football squads must do for major finals, can bring its own challenges and necessary considerations. O’Neill sought to make players feel more comfortable in their surroundings by having pictures of their families adorning their hotel rooms on their arrival.
“I definitely need that, I’ve forgotten what my daughter [Christie] looks like I’ve been away so much,” said Kerr, whose squad will head out to France in six weeks, ahead of their 9 June opener against England in a group that also contains Japan and Argentina.
O’Neill’s attention to detail made for a happy camp that assisted Northern Ireland endeavours that took them to the knockout stages in their first major finals for 30 years. “It’s great for me, tapping into someone’s experience and knowledge who’s actually been there at a major finals,” said Kerr of her sit down and coffee with the Edinburgh resident.
“It was brilliant of him to volunteer. He said ‘some of this might be useful, some of it might not’, and I could take what I needed from his advice.
“Nothing in life is perfect from the start, so offering his perspective helps me prepare, which is so kind. I’ve met him a few times before, his daughter is in our regional performance programme, but it was still great of him to get in touch. He’s not an isolated case, to be fair, a few managers have been in touch to offer support.”
“We’ll turn our hotel in to a home from home – as a person, I like my home comforts, so it’s important the players feel as relaxed as possible. They’ll have down time – we’ve taken feedback from the Euros [two years ago] in terms of how the players felt at a tournament, and that’s the reason we reflect and evaluate. It’s important we factor in their needs.”
Kerr, now two years in charge, recognises she can’t overlook her own needs and the requirement to decompress following a hectic period and before the finals focus goes into overdrive. Her team made history last week with a friendly win over Brazil in Murcia, where they also honed their preparations with a game against Chile, and the 49-year-old seems amazed her golf playing hasn’t entirely been consigned to history. She finds the pursuit perfect to help her take time out from obsessing about her professional role. She had more immediate concerns about damage to local property when playing at the team’s training camp last week, indeed.
“On the golf course I don’t speak about football much,” she said. “I think it’s important – I’m giving the players advice to switch off, take some down time, take time – and I need to do that as well. The best analogy would be when you’re on a plane and told to put on your own oxygen mask first before you help anyone else with theirs.
“I need to do that because I need to be focused on the task ahead. There are busy days – getting in late from Spain on Tuesday night then up early to announce the Spar sponsorship on Wednesday morning, but it’s part of the job. We know this moment has been a long time coming. But I need to try to be fresh so I can do everything in my power to make sure the players are prepared.
“I’ve had two games in the past couple of weeks, playing alongside someone who doesn’t have a huge football knowledge, but it doesn’t actually matter who I play with, I try not to talk about the game. And because I’m not that good at golf, I need to concentrate on the job in hand more!
“So I end up focusing on the shots, the technique and having a bit of a giggle. Truth be told, when I played over in Spain, the course had a lot of apartments around it and I actually hit one with a shot. It’s the first time I’ve ever been apprehensive about asking for my ball back – the guy wasn’t best pleased. But I enjoy it because it does help me switch off. Even when I walk my dog, it’s hard to do that because you’re alone and inside your own head, and it always comes back around to football and decisions to be made.”