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14th Jul 2022

“The first stone piled on really sharpish” – Rory Kavanagh’s diet under Jim McGuinness was insane

Lee Costello

“I was eating like there was no tomorrow.”

When you look at inter-county players now, it’s clear to see that they live the lifestyle that professional athletes would in terms of their nutrition and conditioning.

The work that’s put into the gym, the detail that goes into their diets, and above everything else, the commitment to do both so diligently.

Back in 2011, sports science and S&C work was really coming to the forefront, and you only have to look at Rory Kavanagh’s incredible transformation under Jim McGuinness to see just how seriously it needed to be taken.

Kavanagh in his lighter/earlier years with Donegal 

The Donegal midfielder had met his then new manager in the Clanree Hotel, and was quickly told that he needed to put weight on, before being handed a gym plan that he was expected to follow in the off season.

Being a teacher the St Eunan’s man was fortunate to have a gym at his place of work, and could schedule his meals and new training plan accordingly.

“I had put on the weight that I was told to put on,” revealed Kavanagh in his book Winning. “And I was eating like there was no tomorrow. I was at the gym at seven in the morning, every morning before work.

Kavanagh during his pre-McGuinness years

“I was taking a shake, gobbling down my cereal and heading to the gym. I was taking another shake after that session. At 10:40am or 11am, at the first break in school, I would eat a chicken sandwich.

“I’d eat a second chicken sandwich at lunchtime, my dinner would be at 4pm, immediately when I got home from work. And I’d be eating a big enough supper at 8pm if I was not training, or else after our evening session.

“That’s the way my life had been since I had met McGuinness in the Clanree Hotel in August. It was hard to be eating all of the time.

“The only things I enjoyed were the power smoothies, banana, kiwi, pineapple, two scoops of protein whey, bit of orange juice. Shake it all up and I was on my way. Not half as time consuming as watching chicken boil.”

One of the reasons the All-Star needed to put the weight on was of course to meet the physical demands of his opposition, the heavy blows, the 50/50 balls and the off-the-ball scuffles that naturally occur in games.

The other reason was that the demands of McGuinness-ball was nearly inhuman in terms of the intensity and energy levels needed, so you had to make sure and have the fuel tank brimming.

“To do everything Jim McGuinness wanted done, in the middle, at at the back, up front, but always getting back down without fail, never letting him or any of the boys on the pitch down, to do all of that for 70 minutes?

“I was half terrified that I would not be able to get through it. Mentally in the days and the the hours before running out onto the field in Ballybofey to play Antrim, I felt overwhelmed.

“I did not feel sorry for myself. The first stone had been piled on really sharpish. Jim and Rory wanted me up on the scales every second day in the gym.

“I had been 12 stones and 10 pounds when we had our chat in the Clanree Hotel. The morning of the first round of the championship, I was tipping 14 stone.

“All of that dammed chicken.”

Of course, not everyone needs to go to this level of extreme; some players are naturally bigger than others, some need to lose weight, not gain it, and depending on what position you play or the role you have to perform, your body composition may differ.

In 2011 though, with the eyes of the footballing world everywhere but on Donegal after a disappointing campaign the year before, McGuinness was training monsters in the dark, and we all know what happened when they were finally unleashed that season.


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