StagTracks

A first-person account of Stags Athletics!

Stags Abroad – Matt Danaher

Blog Note: Fairfield University students have numerous opportunities to study abroad during their time on campus, and often student-athletes are among them.  Today’s Stags Abroad post is from men’s soccer player Matt Danaher who is currently in Ireland.

I can’t say enough about how much I’ve enjoyed playing with Salthill Devon F.C. for the last two months. We’ve played four friendly matches since I last wrote, one against the best team in Ireland in Sligo Rovers, the Ireland U-19

Matt Danaher is in Ireland, studying and playing soccer.

Matt Danaher is in Ireland, studying and playing soccer.

National Team, and two against county teams. These were four opportunities that I was extremely excited about, as it is not something I’ve ever had the chance to do before back in the United States.

I have to say, in the warm-up to the Sligo match, I was extremely nervous! I would glance to the other side of the pitch and see full-time professionals who play football for a living. I was on the bench for the first half, and I intently watched the game to see how the play was unfolding and where I could potentially find myself in the second half. The Sligo right-back, the captain, was playing on my side, so he was the one I watched the most. Every time he got the ball, he made his decision early; where he was going to pass it, if he was going to switch the play, if he was going to clip a ball in behind the back four. Just from a spectator’s perspective, I couldn’t believe how quick the speed of play was. Every player knew exactly what they were going to do with the ball when it got to them, and their movement off the ball was fantastic. Every player in the Sligo attack was 2 steps ahead of the last pass and were able to find space where a few seconds ago there was none.

Although I was initially nervous in the warm up, I thought about Dan Abrahams Soccer Tough and realized that in a game where the speed of play is that fast, you don’t have time to be nervous! You have to have full confidence in your abilities and your technique so you can focus on your movement, work rate, and decision-making. So as I warmed up to come on in the second half, I set my mindset on how I was going to check to the ball to receive the ball from the center back, and where I was going to be in our defensive shape when we didn’t have the ball. Tony Mannion, the manager, called me over around 25 minutes into the second half and put me on as a right-winger. At this point, Sligo were putting on a passing clinic, keeping the ball for the majority of the game. I think I might have touched the ball 3 times in the 20 minutes that I played, and all I could do was complete 3 passes to my teammates. I know I did more tracking of the Sligo left back than he did of me. Despite us losing 5-0, the experience of playing against a team like that is invaluable. You don’t fully appreciate the speed of play on the television until you are thrust into a situation with it.

The next match we played was against the Ireland U-19’s. While the starting 11 played the first half, the rest of the players and myself trained for an hour on the Astroturf pitch next to the field. We came onto the bench for the second half, and I came on as a left back in the 60th minute. It was a little awkward at first for me because I’m not naturally left footed, but I managed to get past two Irish players on an overlap and put a good cross into the penalty spot with my left foot. The next time I got the ball, I unbalanced the Irish back four with a long ball over the opposing left back to put our right winger in on goal, where he just nearly missed past the outside of the post.

In our most recent preseason friendly, I got the start at right back against Mayo County. It was one of the most beautiful days I’ve had so far in Ireland, so I couldn’t have asked for better weather to play in. Our team played well in the first half, and we found ourselves 3-0 up at halftime. I almost got myself on the score sheet when I came forward midway through the first half. A cross was over hit and as I came forward it bounced a couple yards away from me from the corner of the 18 yard box. I struck the ball on the way down and drilled it back across the frame of the goal, causing the keeper to parry it across and away from the goal. Over the course of the 55 minutes, I made sure to stay positive in everything I did. I made a few mistakes sure, but I made sure to immediately divert my attention away from them and back onto the game. I’ve stopped trying to be a perfectionist and just play because I love to play. If there’s anything that I can take back with me from Ireland to Fairfield for next fall, it’s going to be this mentality of focusing on the positive and being 100% confident in my ability.

Also, on a side note, last Saturday we had the day off so I had the opportunity to go see the Cliffs of Moher for the first time. They are truly breathtaking! I haven’t had the chance to do any traveling since I’ve been here, unlike my American friends (Talking to you Maddie) but I’m really happy I got the chance to see them. The pictures really don’t do the cliffs justice; you have to experience them for yourself to understand what I’m talking about. I made sure to wear my South Central Premier cap to give them a little shout out! I also wanted to give a little shout out to my BTE family. Eric and Mike, you guys have been with me this entire way and I can’t thank you enough for the things that you’ve done to get me to this point. Tiff, Matteo, and Manya, you guys are the best and whenever I hear about you guys doing well it’s like hearing about an accomplishment from a brother or sister. I always make sure to wear BTE on my wrist every game to remind myself of you all and to help me remember that I’m not doing this alone.

Unfortunately, as the first match approaches on March 8, I remain stuck in limbo. My international clearance has not come through yet from the United States, and until that happens I cannot play in any first team matches. Unfortunate as it is, there’s nothing I can do to control it. I could be cleared to play tomorrow, or it could be the end of April. All I know is that I can’t focus on that, I just have to remain positive and keep working hard and playing well in training and when my chance finally comes, I’ll grab it with both hands.

Thanks for reading, God bless, and go Stags!

Michael O’Keeffe – Olympic Blog

A photo of the pitch in Japan where Michael O'Keeffe received his first U23 international 'cap'.

Olympic Blog – Welcome To London!

Our tour of Asia is complete and we are rewarded with one day to soak up the Olympic village before we head to Austria for our final warm-up match.

Despite a 2-1 loss to Korea Republic, it was an improved performance from the Japan game as we continue to get used to each other and the style of play we have adopted.

The feeling amongst the team on the field is growing in confidence as we are beginning to become more comfortable with each other and understand combinations up and down the pitch.

That confidence on the field transpires off the field also, with a bit more banter flying around at the dinner table.

Our first taste of the Olympics was yesterday as we arrived to the Olympic village for a day off training to relax our bodies and soak up the atmosphere.

Although there were not a lot of athletes here yet, going into the Olympic dining hall (where the McDonalds is free!) and arriving to New Zealand’s building, welcomed by a haka [a version of the traditional haka performed by sports teams, especially the New Zealand rugby team], was an extremely proud feeling.

Knowing that you are now part of a small group of athletes (a little over 1000) to represent New Zealand at an Olympic games and be part of such a prestigious club is very humbling.

We were officially welcomed by the chief de commission Dave Currie and presented with our own pounamu – a greenstone native to New Zealand.

Following the official welcome and tour of the building came the time that every athlete looks forward to – kit allocation.

I was 5 years old again and it was Christmas as we got into our huge bag full of gear. Shirts, shorts, tracksuits, jerseys, jandals [a trademark for an open sandal that has a narrow strap between the big toe and the other toes], shoes, speakers, hats, singlets, the works; no matter how old you get, kit-day is always the most exciting.

We are just hanging around the village today, looking at some of the stadiums, a bit of shopping at the Westfield Mall, and trying to stay away from the ever so tempting McDonalds.

We leave for Austria tomorrow for one final game against the United Arab Emirates, before we head to Coventry where we will be based for a week and with the arrival of recent All-White captain Tommy Smith, the team is complete and rearing to go.

Let the Games begin!

Cheers,

Michael O’Keeffe

Michael O’Keeffe – 2012 Olympic Blog

Olympic Blog 2 – Preparation

Whether it be chicken nuggets for Usain Bolt or a steady 20km row in the morning for the rowing boys in Switzerland, everybody prepares differently, and as a goalkeeper, it is no different.

I always like to start off my goalkeeping sessions with some crisp volleys into my hands. It’s a good way to wake up the hands and body, particularly if you miss one and it hits you in the face.

Gradually I’ll begin to introduce some basic footwork into the drills now and begin to vary the service from volleys at the face, to volleys at the stomach and on the ground.

Footwork is an extremely important aspect of goalkeeping because your feet are what enable you to make the save. We practice these small – mostly lateral – movements in the hope that it becomes instinctive in a game.

The final stages of the warm-up include continuing footwork but working into a collapse dive, ensuring our body weight is forward so any parry’s can be steered away from goal.

These are essentially the fundamentals of goalkeeping and are repeated every session. Although it seems insignificant, personally, this part of the session is the most important.

The session will then move into more advanced drills of situations we may encounter during a game. Lots of shot stopping, reaction saves, one on ones, crossing, distribution, are all done to ensure we are prepared for anything that may come our way during 90 minutes.

Preparation off the field is equally important. The correct diet, hydrating, stretching all factor in and help you stay injury free and recover quicker.

Little things like wearing my long skins and stretching on the 12-hour flight to Japan so my legs don’t swell up are additional ways that I look to prepare before our game against Japan on the 11th.

My bags are packed and passport in hand as I say see ya later New Zealand and Konnichiwa Japan, en route to London 2012… prepared for a trip of a lifetime.

Cheers,

Michael O’Keeffe

Blog Note: Michael O’Keeffe is a senior with the Stags men’s soccer team.  He was recently selected to represent his home country, New Zealand, in the 2012 London Olympics. Read about that here. He will be providing Stag Tracks with a blog about his experience throughout the next month leading up to, and through the Olympic Games.

Michael O’Keeffe – 2012 Olympic Blog

Michael O'Keeffe will be representing New Zealand at the 2012 Olympic Games.

29 Days, 696 hours, 41,760 minutes until the Olympic games begin (not that I’m counting) and training is in full swing.

I’ve based myself in Wellington where the national team goalkeeping coach is based and have been working with him on a regular basis as we prepare for our first warm up match against the Japan U-23 side in Tokyo on July 11th.

Training includes 1-2 sessions on the field a day, 3 gym sessions a week and an all-important game on the weekend.

The local club I am playing for, Miramar Rangers enjoyed a 6-0 win in the Chatham Cup last weekend and have a tough away trip against Macynvale in Hastings (5 hours away) this Sunday.

Miramar is made up of largely Team Wellington players with 3 of the players selected to train with the Wellington Phoenix as part of the Welnix School of Excellence.

Training with the best Wellington and New Zealand has to offer certainly helps my preparation as we look to take on the some of the world’s best footballers.

Lastly I would just like to thank all the support I have received from friends and the Fairfield community, certainly makes waking up at 5:30am for training a lot easier!

Michael O’Keeffe

Blog Note: Michael O’Keeffe is a senior with the Stags men’s soccer team.  He was recently selected to represent his home country, New Zealand, in the 2012 London Olympics. Read about that here. He will be providing Stag Tracks with a blog about his experience throughout the next month leading up to, and through the Olympic Games.

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