Who is Philip Conway? The question was asked by many last March after his appointment as Physical Fitness Trainer to the Tipperary team. This wasn't surprising because he wasn't a Tipperary man and had no connection with the game of hurling.
It will come as a surprise to many to learn that the man has spent nearly a quarter of his life in Tipperary. Born in Dublin he came to Preparatory School to Rockwell College in 1956 at the tender age of eight years! He was to spend no less than nine years as a student there and later return as a P.E. teacher for one year, 1970-71.
During his years at Rockwell he won high distinction in the field of athletics. His speciality was the shot putt and he first made the national scene in 1963 when he won the Irish Schools' Intermediate Championship with a great final throw, which pushed Ned Byrne of Cistercian College, Roscrea into second place. Byrne was to play corner-forward for Kilkenny in the 1971 All-Ireland.
Almost equally gifted with the discus Philip took senior All-Ireland honours in both shot-putt and discus in 1964 and followed up with a second double the following year. His contribution was a major factor in Rockwell winning the College of Science Cup on both occasions.
Equally proficient at rugby he played on two junior and two senior cup teams between 1962 and 1965. The College won the senior cup in 1964, Centenary Year, and the captain, Johnny Moroney of Clogheen, presented it to the then President, Fr. Finucane, C.S.S.P. on the balcony over the main entrance of the College. It was with a certain amount of nostalgia that Philip Conway appeared on the same balcony with the McCarthy Cup on October 4 last. He himself captained the College side in 1965 and his skill with the oval ball was recognised with Munster interprovincial caps in 1964 and 1965. This was the end of his rugby career because he gave up the game after school to concentrate solely on athletic training.
He had an offer of an athletics scholarship to the U.S. after his Leaving Certificate but decided he needed a year to think things over before he accepted. During the year he worked for the Irish Lighthouse Service and eventually went to Boston University in September 1966. He spent four years there before coming back to Rockwell in 1970 with a B.Sc in Physical Education. Returning to Springfield College, Mass. in 1971 he was awarded a Master's degree in Education in 1973. He got a job after returning in Belvedere College and has been working there since.
The high point of his athletics career was qualifying for and competing in the Munich Olympics in 1972. It wasn't to be the happiest of occasions for him and he didn't perform as well as he hoped but he recalls it as a great honour to have represented his country at that level.
Three years previously he had the distinction of winning three Irish titles in the one year, the hammer, the shot and the discus. Two years before he had broken two Irish national records. Ned Tobin's discus record had stood since 1939 and Hugh O'Callaghan's shot-putt record had been established in 1964. Philip became very good friends with Ned Tobin and actually called his house the day he died.
Coaching teams and players to be fit is Philip Conway's job. As well as his work at Belvedere College he has coached teams outside. He has done work with Old Belvedere and Trinity Athletic and Rowing clubs. He wrote the fitness schedules for Roly Meades' tour teams to New Zealand and Australia. He has also acted as national hammer and discus coach.
How did he happen to come to Tipperary? Babs takes up the story: 'I was talking to Tony Ward and Ollie Campbell after a Links Golf Outing and I asked them if they knew anyone who was good at preparing teams. Ollie told me the best man he knew was Phil Conway'.
Phil continues the story: 'I was at a Rockwell College PPU dinner at the Royal Marine Hotel on February 17 and I was informed there was a man who wished to speak to me. I was introduced to Denis O'Connor and he spent over two hours talking to me. In the course of the conversation he used the expression 'winning an All-Ireland' at least twenty times! I went home and discussed it with my wife. At the time we were expecting our fourth child. He was born a week later and died shortly after birth. When things settled down Babs contacted me in early March. I said I'd try it as at the time it seemed like a good distraction and one hell of a challenge.
On March 15 he met the panel for the first time at Thurles and explained the components of fitness, tested them, knew that he could make a contribution and gave the players a programme of 'selfhelp' to be done at home. Between then and the All-Ireland the team had 43 sessions and he was present at 39 of them. .
They looked at videos on the various forms of fitness training to help them understand the direction the graph was taking. The panel trained methodically and progressively, adapted well to the imposed demands made upon the various energy systems of the human frame. They learned about the regression before progression concept.
Tremendous attention was paid to detail. For a man to play well he must look well and much attention was paid to the players' gear and the get-out as well as to their physical fitness.
He tells the story of the laces to illustrate the point. 'When I first took over, players went out with different laces, different togs, different jerseys and dirty boots. I tried to get across the idea that if the player thought enough of himself he would present himself properly. So, one evening I said: 'Let's all wear white laces'. There were mumbles and grumbles and after about a half-hour Ken Hogan said: 'I don't like the idea of white laces. The ball is white. In a tussle in the square I could mix up the laces and the ball'. 'A very valid point' I said. So, we agreed on black laces.
Every training session has a purpose and every player must be given a reason for every recommendation and every requirement. During these 43 sessions the players received about 35 handouts to be taken home and studied. One such handout was a list of all the members of the panel, selectors, mentors, etc., their addresses and their phone numbers at home and at work. This was to facilitate easy communication and to make each player feel he was a member of a closely knit group.
Philip Conway sounds like a man with a mission. He has a great acquaintance with the human body and an extensive knowledge of physical training requirements. He tries to coax and convert his charges to accepting this information and using it for their physical betterment. But the psychological factor is equally important. The players must know what they are doing and be happy and contented doing it. 'My task was educative in nature. If all they got from me was the importance of warm-up and the practice of same, the importance of stretching for injury prevention and the practice of same, the work practice, skill practice or fitness training and warm down phase afterwards, I would be happy. Finally, if they would take these practices into their own clubs they would improve physical fitness generally'.
Philip Conway is quietly satisfied with his achievement. It has all been worth the nearly 8,000 miles he has travelled from Dundrum, Dublin to Thurles since last March. A married man with three young girls, he rises at 6.30 during the week in order to be at work at Belvedere at 8 a.m. He is very pleased with the freedom he has been given to implement his physical fitness ideas on the team. He believes that a few of the players could achieve a higher level of fitness. He enjoys the meal after training in the Park Avenue. He has no major plans for the future except to take things as they come. The players are very happy for him and so must be all the Tipperary supporters.
Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1990, pp 18-19