Perth Glory captain Jacob Burns South African Tour Diary.
Sunday, 22nd July
After a long, 16-hour-plus journey, it was great to get to our base here at the Ingwenyama Sports Resort in Nelspruit. It-s an absolutely fantastic set-up, specifically built for football and all the boys have embraced it really well. We have everything at our disposal from the state-of-the-art gym and pool to the training pitches which are superb and perfectly located right on our doorstep within the resort. It was close to midday by the time we arrived from Johannesburg so were given the afternoon and evening to unpack, settle in and recover from the trip before getting stuck back into work tomorrow morning.
Monday, 23rd July
Due to the time difference, I was wide awake and up and about at the crack of dawn this morning and straight in for breakfast at 7am. We then had a good solid session on the training ground during which the boys shook off the last of the jet lag and started to get switched on for tomorrow night-s opening game of the tour against Amazulu. With a number of new faces in the squad, we need to work on some of our combinations and we did plenty of that today. We know from having played them last year that Amazulu will be a strong, fit, physical side who will provide us with exactly the kind of tough test that we are looking for. On a personal note, I-m looking forward to playing at the Mbombela Stadium which really impressed the management team who were invited to watch a game there last night.
Tuesday, 24th July
We-ve just headed back to our base at Ingwenyama Resort having lost the opening game of the tour 1-0 to Amazulu. They were strong and fit as we expected them to be just a couple of weeks out from the start of their season, they fielded their best side and they looked sharp having already got a couple of pre-season hit-outs under their belt. Even though they controlled a lot of the ball, however, I thought we created more of the clear-cut chances and I think if a couple of the ones we created early in the piece had gone in, the game would have panned out very differently. Looking at the bigger picture, there were certainly a lot of positives to come out of the game. I thought we played well in patches, had a chance to experiment in terms of both the formation and personnel and overall it was a good test against match-sharp, physical opponents. I was particularly impressed with the performances produced by some of the new lads. Chris Harold did very well going forward and Scott Jamieson and Michael Thwaite looked good at the back, while at a personal level, I was happy with my performance and I got out of the game what I wanted to get out of it. As a squad we are definitely moving in the right direction and will be in a better place again heading into the next game on Friday.
Wednesday, 25th July
After completing our recovery this morning, we visited the nearby Curro School to help out with a football clinic and it proved to be a really rewarding experience. The locals have embraced us well again on this trip just like they did last year and it was great to get out into the community this afternoon and experience another culture and way of life and interact with the kids. Even though the surroundings here at the Ingwenyama Resort are superb, it was great to get out and get an insight into life in South Africa and the boys really enjoyed it. There were some great young players amongst the 40 or so students, especially one little girl who showed up one or two of our boys which was great to see. We had a little sing-song as well after we gave some of the girls some signed memorabilia on the condition that they gave us a tune and they belted out a Queen song which was fantastic. Some of us players tried to help out by joining in, but luckily we weren-t loud enough to spoil it!
Thursday, 26th July
It was very much back to work this morning as we began our preparations for tomorrow-s game against another top flight South African side, Platinum Stars. The coaching staff put on a tough double session for us and it was great to see Billy Mehmet and Steven McGarry back fit and firing on all cylinders after overcoming their injury niggles. Both are in the frame to start tomorrow and I-m sure they-ll be really keen to get into it. The gaffer wants to share the load around and give everyone as much game time as possible, but he also wants to establish certain combinations and formations as we slowly build towards the start of the season and the three games over here give us a great opportunity to do that. In terms of the dimensions of our team this season, the lads that we have brought in will enable us to play out even more from the back so we a really working on that in particular. The new lads have all been impressed by the intensity of the training sessions and the professionalism of the set-up we have in place and that-s a credit to the management, support staff and the player group as a whole.
Friday, 27th July
There is always a buzz in the air on matchday and today has certainly been no exception. My preparation will be a little different here than it would be for a game back in Australia, but I-ll still look to use the pool for around fifteen minutes to loosen the legs up. It-s often hard to get a bit of a pre-game nap in at home with my wife and kids around, but I should be able to manage it here as long as my room-mate Dean Heffernan isn-t making too much noise styling his hair or doing his make-up. I-m also a little bit superstitious and do quite a few odd things when I-m getting ready for a game. I always put my left boot and shin pad on first, I-m always first on the massage table and the first to get strapped as well and I always stick to them. I-ve got a play list that I listen to on the way to the game and then when we get into the changing room, our brilliant kit man Brett Lambert makes sure the ghetto blaster is pumping out some tunes to get us going. And in terms of what we do post-game, it-s all very scientific these days. Our strength and conditioning coach Warren Andrews does a great job in making sure that the hot and cold facilities are always set up, the recovery tights get put on and depending on how the game has gone, I sometimes try and hop on the massage table again for another rub-down. We also get weighed and hydration tested to see how much we-ve lost during the game and the following day we go through another full recovery session. As you mature as a player, you begin to appreciate the science of professional support and how much these things really mean to your recovery and if you do the right thing, you give your body every chance to be up and ready and in the best possible condition for the next game. In modern day football the games come thick and fast and you-ve got to look for little edges and completing a proper recovery is certainly one of those edges.
Saturday, 28th July
Today has been all about recovering from last night-s 3-0 win over Platinum Stars. It was a really solid performance from all the boys against another tough, physical team and I thought we more than matched them in terms of sharpness and fitness. We dominated for long periods, created plenty of opportunities and we are really happy with what we got out of it. A lot of the younger lads did really well, especially Storm Roux and Chris Harold and it was also fantastic to see Steven McGarry and Billy Mehmet back in action after returning from injury. On a personal note, there are definitely things that I can improve upon, but I can-t really expect myself or the rest of the group to be firing on all cylinders just yet as it-s still so early in pre-season. That said, being the kind of character that I am, I set myself very high standards and am always looking to improve in every game that comes along. We now have to make sure we build on that performance against the Stars and take the positives into our final tour game on Tuesday.
Sunday 29th July
We had a rest day today which was really welcome after a tough week of training and playing games and were given the opportunity to go and interact with elephants at a fantastic nearby sanctuary called Elephant Whispers. We got up close and personal with them, feeding and touching them which was an amazing thing for the guys to get involved in and an experience I really enjoyed. Following that there was a change of pace as we headed to the SkyTrail which was a lot hairier than most of us thought it would be. We drove up into the mountains and there were those rope slides you connected to which I presumed would move quite slowly, but they were around 300 metres long and 30 metres above the ground and you picked up a lot of pace as you went down them. It was a great set-up, something totally different and we really enjoyed it.
Monday 30th July
After yesterday-s bit rest and relaxation, we were back at it this morning getting ourselves prepared for tomorrow-s final game of the tour against another top flight local side, Bidvest Wits. We are expecting another tough encounter and having played well in our last game, we obviously want to step it up again and finish the trip with another win. I-ve been really pleased with the progress that we-ve made in the two games that we-ve played here and if we continue to show that improvement, I-m sure we can pick up another positive result. It-ll be a bit different kicking off at 11am, but I-m looking forward to it.
Tuesday 31st July
I was delighted that we picked up a win in our third and final game of the tour against Bidvest this morning. I felt that we controlled the game for long periods, especially during the first-half and created plenty of good chances. Bidvest were a strong side and over-physical at times, but we retained our composure and kept our focus despite the lack of protection from the referee and that is something that will stand us in good stead in the forthcoming A-League season. We-ve shown real progress since the first game and that-s been down to being together and training hard. On a personal note, I was a bit under the weather heading into the game so I was pleased to get a hit-out for 45 minutes and play my part in what was a really good all-round performance. The combinations we created and the way we played out from the back is exactly what we have been working on in training and it was great to see that hard work bearing fruit in a game situation.
Wednesday 1st August
This morning our focus was on recovery following yesterday-s game and for some of us, there was also a bit of a maintenance session with our top physio Chris Hutchinson. He looks after us brilliantly as do the rest of the support team who don-t tend to get credit they deserve. Warren Andrews is a brilliant Fitness and Conditioning Coach, we-ve got a great Kit Manager in Brett Lambert.
Thursday 2nd August
It is wonderful to experience other cultures and in doing that, I often end up reflecting upon my own circumstances at home and how fortunate I am. I was honoured today to be able to meet some of the local kids from a nearby football club, Mbombela United and give them some of my boots and bits of kit that we probably take for granted, but that don-t come easily to them. It-s always nice to be able to help out, our lads really enjoyed, there were plenty of smiles it and it was great that we had another opportunity to give something back to the people here.
Friday 3rd August
It-s departure day today and along with the rest of the boys, I-m really keen to get home. It-s been a fantastic trip, we-ve played against three really strong, match-fit opponents and more than held our own in each game and there are so many positives to take out of that. We will be a better team both mentally and physically as we head back to Perth today and can now build on what we-ve worked on here as we close in on the start of the A-League season. The new boys have mixed in really well and I feel I know them a lot better now, we-ve been able to work really hard and have all our sports science support available to us at this wonderful purpose-built football venue and there haven-t been any serious injuries either which is obviously a major plus. And on a personal note, I always love getting back to Perth as for me it-s a very hard place to beat. I just hope I can pick up some souvenirs in duty free because my kids have been asking me every day what I-m bringing back for them!