New Head of High Performance and Conditioning Nick Walsh has only been in the job for less than a month, but change is already starting to show at RSEA Park.
A revamped gym set-up, emphasis on "pre-hab" and the integration of boxing are just some of the areas Walsh has taken to in order to freshen up St Kilda's high performance program, with the club's upstairs gym transformed earlier this week to accommodate for new eight-bag boxing rack.
The globe-trotting Irishman – originally from County Cavan, Ireland – comes to the Saints with a loaded resumé after holding numerous roles both nationally and abroad.
His experience in the AFL sphere stretches across seven seasons at GWS as its High Performance (2011-2018), Development & Rehab (2014-2018) and backline coach (2016-2018), while back in his native Ireland, he spent six years as part of the Gaelic Athletic Association (2004-2011), five of which were as Games Development Manager.
Now, Walsh’s cross-code and cross-country knowledge base is being brought to RSEA Park, Moorabbin, with the introduction of boxing one of several additions to the restructured program.
“It’s only subtle changes here and there, but one of the key things I want is when the players come back they see there has been a little bit of change and ‘wow factor’,” Walsh told saints.com.au.
“As a mid-20s player starting to struggle with injuries, I turned to boxing. I got a lot out of it in terms of my footwork, my movement and my motivation to train, so that will become part of our program.
“There’s been a few boys floating in and out the last few days and I’ve seen Bradley Hill pretty excited about it. Paddy Ryder, who’s been ticking over the legs and getting his running up to scratch, and a few other players are very keen and excited to see what it entails.”
Walsh’s program will primarily revolve around physical resilience and robustness, both of which will underpin the squad's program as they're put through their pre-season paces.
While the basics of strength, power, running loads and off-legs conditioning will gradually increase as the new year approaches, Walsh’s initial focus will be on recovery and regeneration to best “pre-hab” each player’s body for the season ahead.
The “dribbling in (of) resilient effects” – particularly for players such as Jarryn Geary and Jade Gresham who have come off long-term setbacks – will be paramount when the Saints’ 5+ year players return on 6 December.
Walsh’s own experience in debilitating groin injuries – the bulk of which were avoidable – during his time as a Category B rookie for Melbourne in the early 2000s highlighted the importance of physical preparation. It also ignited his interest in the high performance space.
“Looking back on my career, it’s about giving people the opportunity to not make the mistakes I was able to make,” Walsh said.
“We have to have a really balanced program. Football has come a long way in the last number of years. There are different athletes, different players and we have to customise the program to cater for each player.
“Until we get the list to a comfortable position in being able to really work and doing ‘X’ number of sessions a week, we need to make sure that we take away the risk and we make sure we’re fully recovered before we hit maximum effort again.”
Walsh is one of several fresh football department additions to the Saints in 2021, joining backline coach Corey Enright and Head of Development and Learning Damian Carroll in the reshuffled line-up, but isn’t coming into the club a total stranger.
Two-time Trevor Barker Award winner Jack Steele was a housemate of his during their respective stretches at GWS, he has known fellow Irishman Darragh Joyce for several years and collaborated with coach Brett Ratten while working at the AFL Coaches’ Association for the Tackle Your Feelings program.
Walsh kept an eye on the Saints while working for GWS, but took a particularly keen interest following their 2020 finals campaign.
“It was from that year where I said I was going to keep a close eye on the Sainters in 2021. With anything, there’s ups and downs and that ability to sustain anything is challenging,” Walsh said.
“What I’m on the hook to do now is look to the future and see where we can get little wins along the way. If that’s pushing some of our players in the right direction, resting players in the pre-season to get the best out of them come March, April, so on, that’s going to benefit the program.
“More holistically going forward, I think we as a squad are in a really good position. We’ve got a good profile of a list and we’ve got a really good coaching group with good people.
“Everyone’s even at this time of the season, so I think it’s important we control what we can control and put one foot in front of the other and step in the right direction.”