Ger Carmody’s title is Head of Operations at the IRFU, although the colloquial terms, pathfinder or facilitator, perhaps best encapsulates his role.
He presides over a cohort whose responsibility is to ensure the Ireland rugby squad, coaching and backroom teams’ requirements are fulfilled, to allow them concentrate exclusively on winning rugby matches; a remit that centres on operational and logistical planning incorporating travel, accommodation, and the movement of personnel, kit and equipment.
Japan will be his fifth Rugby World Cup, having joined the IRFU in 1992. His expertise saw him seconded to the Lions as Logistics Manager for the tours to Australia (2013) and New Zealand two years ago. It was in October 2017 that Carmody paid his first visit to Japan, his travelling companions Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and head of Strength & Conditioning, Jason Cowman.
Ireland had played two tests in Japan that summer but Carmody had been on Lions duty. The itinerary included visiting match locations, hotels, training venues, both grass pitches and indoor facilities and elite gyms.
The tournament organisers decided to simplify one issue based on feedback from the participating countries and that was to install temporary gyms in marquees at the training facilities.
The Irish party compiled a checklist and wish-list. Carmody explained: “The first thing you look at is the distance between hotel and pitch, the various training facilities and the stadia. The first thing we need to look at is whether we want to be based in a ‘working hotel’ or a ‘match hotel.’
“I would describe Carton House as a working hotel, where everything is self contained. A match hotel would be one in the city centre. These are two different dynamics in terms of the team accommodation.
“What we tried to do at every location was visit several hotels, pitches, indoor halls and gyms and then examine the travel distances involved. The infrastructure in Japan can sometimes mean that they don’t have hard shoulders on some of the roads so if a vehicle breaks then everything stops. We looked at the logistics of how everything works.”
At that point Ireland knew that they would have first dibs on hotels and training facilities. The pecking order is determined by world rankings, the tournament run by JR 2019 on behalf of World Rugby and everything goes through the company.
The tournament organisers host 46 people in the official travelling party, covering travel and accommodation or landed costs as they are known. Anything above that, the IRFU must fund.
Ireland will have 53 personnel, an additional six people, a cost that the union will underwrite. It is not simply a case of money as those extra people cannot be accredited for stadia and dressing room access on match days but can act officially in hotels and training grounds.
JR 2019 group specific hotels and training venues together, dividing them into five separate packages based on the number of countries in a pool and there is no cherry picking a hotel in one and a training venue from another.
One of the challenges in Japan is that the people (as a race in general) are a bit smaller
Carmody explained: “We went and viewed them all. There is always going to be an element of compromise. You might have to forego something in choosing one package or another, where three or four aspects of it are perfectly suited but one might not be. They are all top quality facilities but different teams have different requirements so you’d look and see what best suits you.
“You might decide we are going to prepare in this hotel and move in closer to the stadium near match day. If the distance is over 50 minutes travel time JR 2019 offer the option of switching to what they call a match hotel. So for a Saturday game you can go in on a Friday. You can leave everything in the original hotel, move in, and then return after the match.
“In terms of distances from hotels to venues, they didn’t think it was a huge deal for a team to be on a bus for over an hour to get to a game. That was an issue for us. We prefer to be no more than 30-minutes on a bus.”
JR 2019 provide estimated travel times between hotels and match stadia but Carmody road tested those numbers, while in Japan, also consulting Google Maps, to establish how long it would take at various times during the day. Nothing is taken for granted, everything has to be corroborated.
He visited Japan on three occasions, the stadia not available on the first recce. He said: “It’s a case of seeing what’s there, confirming it and then you want to ensure that operationally they can deliver.”
Players room in pairs and two double beds are required with bed extensions for the taller players. All extraneous furniture is removed from a room to accommodate baggage, while the height of showers heads proved to be an issue.
Carmody smiled: “One of the challenges in Japan is that the people (as a race in general) are a bit smaller and therefore the beds are smaller and the showers heads are very low.” Solutions have been found.
Room temperature is fixed while any heavy bedding is removed, particularly as Japan will be warm and humid for the majority of the tournament, to ensure players get good nights’ sleep. He continued: “We also [insist] that we are the only people on that particular floor of a hotel.” Two security personnel travel with the Irish squad, one local, one whom they have sourced themselves.
Carmody continued: “Ideally we try and reserve a ballroom, something that is big enough to cater for a leisure area for the players, where the lads can chill out; soft furnishings, large screen TV, table tennis, pool, those types of things.
“Mervyn Murphy, Vinny Hammond and the analysis team would have a dedicated area in the hotel with trestle tables, laptop set-up and there would be a theatre style meeting area for the coaches and players. We will travel with two physiotherapists, a doctor, two masseurs and our own medical beds so they would require an area for the lads to get treatment in privacy, rubs, strapping etc.
“We need all that space to ensure you have the room to accommodate everything. Ideally that flow works within a function room. You might need multiple rooms if a ballroom isn’t big enough.”
Another consideration is a private dining area for the squad. IRFU nutritionist Ruth Wood Martin – she spent time at a number of hotels teaching the kitchen team how to make porridge – and Sinead Bennett (Team Services department) travelled to Japan to decide on menus.
There are unsubstantiated rumours that a consignment of Barry’s Tea, Tayto crisps and Cadbury’s chocolate may have somehow become mixed up with the essential supplies
Carmody said: “Ruth and Sinead went over in April this year to do the finer detail of the hotels we will stay in at the pool stage to go through the minutiae of nutrition, operations and set-up of the hotel. Nutritionally we would have our own stipulations, quantity and quality to ensure that we feed these men. That’s an important aspect of trying to work with a hotel.
“(During the tournament) Ruth and Sinead travel ahead to ensure that when we get to a hotel it’s ready. We work on the premise that when we arrive at a hotel, our team room is ready, room keys are ready to go, players walk in and pick up their key, bags are there, team room is set-up and everything is good to go.
“Nutrition wise we would make sure the food is right because culturally it’s quite different. Ruth has put a massive amount of work into ensuring that is the case. She’s gone to all the hotels, tasted all the food, so we know that they can produce the food that we are looking for.
“From a players’ perspective the key things would be good food, a good night’s sleep and good Wifi. Coffee is a massive thing. We are independently sourcing our coffee machine and we are bringing coffee with us. Cian Healy is the man that looks after coffee, the team’s barista.
“The electricity is a different voltage in Japan. Some of that electrical equipment we will source in country rather than here. We have an electrical contractor coming in to ensure that we have everything we need for electrical items, like computer equipment.
Two containers, about five tonnes of equipment, has preceded Ireland’s arrival in Japan, medical supplies, food, spare kit and strength and conditioning equipment; there are unsubstantiated rumours that a consignment of Barry’s Tea, Tayto crisps and Cadbury’s chocolate may have somehow become mixed up with the essential supplies.
Ireland fly Aer Lingus to London and JAL (Japanese Airlines) to Tokyo and will travel by bus and Shinkansen (Bullet train) to three of the four match cities with just one internal flight from Fukuoka back to Tokyo, hopefully for a World Cup quarter-final.
Carmody said: “We plan every aspect of what we going to do. We go to an airport, the players are straight through security, ideally straight onto a plane when we can. All the baggage is checked in; boarding passes are ready from when they get off the bus.
“We try and minimise the time it takes to go from place to place. We would have WhatsApp groups set up with every hotel so that they would know immediately if we got delayed at training or a meal time changed.
“Communication is key. Sinead is brilliant at managing that communication pathway. We ensure that the guys can focus on playing rugby. Players get up, have food and go and do their day’s work. We don’t spoil them, but they level of detail is expected and delivered in all international teams. Sinead does unbelievable work, she’s fantastic; without her I would be lost.
“There is a team of people who work so hard, Geraldine (Armstrong) in the office, she’s our travel manager, and the guys down in the IRFU warehouse in Naas, including Tony Doody and John Moran, our kit man.” The players’ gear takes up the entire floor space of a basketball arena.
“The players will get a schedule for the World Cup. What we will do is provide some general information to every place that we are going. We have a number of liaison officers and what we asked them to do is source coffee shops, source restaurants and different activities to do. In the document that we give the players there will be a Google Maps link to all these places.”
Some peripheral points of interest: Ireland will have two eight tonne trucks at their disposal to move gear and equipment around Japan, laundry has a 24-hour turnover timeframe, while there are strict rules regarding branding on jerseys.
For example Ireland can wear Vodafone sponsored gear for training but must change to sponsors’ logo free kit for official functions and on match day. Shoulder pads, head gear and mouth-guards, that isn’t part of the official RWC sponsor family also fall under the same regulations. Andrew Ellis will professionally cover over whatever’s required.
There are rumours that golfers Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry have been invited to join the squad in Japan for a chat about their experiences with regard to elite sport; both have spent time with the squad before.
Two years planning distilled into what Carmody hopes will be a seven week odyssey in Japan, the players offered every facility to concentrate on what they do best. The P&P stage is over.