With the start of the Euro’s only just getting underway you would be forgiven for forgetting that the domestic leagues in the UK are just under six weeks away.
We took the opportunity to speak with Wycombe Wanderers winger Garath McMcleary on how he sees his team’s fortunes for the new season and more importantly how he manages to keep his fitness on point physically and mentally with the distractions of the Euro’s going on at present, let’s face it we all love a beverage and pizza or kebab whilst watching the games. (don’t we?)
With McCleary and Anis Mehmeti able to complement the hard-working duo of Curtis Thompson and Dom Gape, Wycombe will be confident of being right up there pushing for promotion by the end of the season to the Championship.
You’ve had lots of ups and downs in your career to date, how do you mentally address different situations you have been placed in over the years?
Yes I’ve had a mixture of disappointment, injury and loss but sometimes never getting too high or too low no matter the situation.
With injuries I’ve found working as hard as possible on rehab and setting yourself realistic goals help. Talking to your closest friends and family, luckily for me I have a good friend in the same industry so understanding becomes a little easier.
Biggest help for me though is my children. No matter what has happened they always see me as the strongest man in the world that can do no wrong and can brighten their day no matter what’s occurred.
How do you keep yourself physically fit during pre-season?
Over pre season I would try to completely cut out the foods that wouldn’t benefit me ie. no snacking, 3 meals a day with a protein shake and creatine after the session with the boys.
If I did have a late snack it would be nuts or fruit (banana, cherries) I like the term ‘Prevention is better than cure’ so a big must for me is staying on top of my gym routine which will help me progress this season and keep my body at an optimal level.
What’s the best and worst thing for you once you return back to the squad for training?
The best is obviously the camaraderie and maybe having that strict routine back in place. Sometimes especially when I was younger I couldn’t wait for that bit of time off yet 2/3 weeks off and you want to be back kicking a ball around.
The worst as you can imagine is the running “haha”. The way the modern game is going though players are far more prepared than a few years ago.
Pre-season was seen as a means to get fit but now managers expect players to come back in good condition to maybe work more on the footballing side, shape and implement ideas earlier for the start of the new campaign.
What’s the typical diet for you when the season is in full flow and do you change your nutrition when the season finishes?
I won’t lie in the off season it’s completely my time to relax and not think too much about the regimental things that I can or can’t eat/drink. Maybe 2 weeks before the start of preseason I will cut down.
I’m more of a pescatarian in season, there are occasions I will eat chicken so I guess that makes me a ‘flexitarian’ ‘haha’. in terms or portions on my plate I would say a quarter protein salmon, prawns, etc, a quarter carbs, quinoa is a favourite or couscous and half greens & good fats, broccoli, lettuce, beets, olive oil avocado etc. the main things I don’t eat are dairy and red meat. Reasons being, I feel lethargic and gain unwanted weight quicker.
My favourite meal was curried lamb with rice and peas so that’s been tough to remove.
What is your go to meal before and after a game?
Pre-Match or the day of the game I would go for a bigger breakfast normally like porridge with soya/almond milk and banana with a couple slices of toast jam/nutella (sugar fix).
Meal before the game I would have pasta broccoli, carrots and some salmon. Weirdly, (which many people say to me), I have a very light pre-match meal going into the game with a mentality of ‘Playing hungry’, towards the end of the game I’m hungry but mentally maybe I feel lighter quicker and more nimble.
Post match if I could I would have a bean burger from Nando’s with peri chips & spicy rice.
This has happened a few times after away games. I feel as long as you refuel after the calories burnt and follow on eating the right foods after you’ll be fine with a little treat.
Do you have any matchday superstitions or pre-match rituals?
I do, firstly I have to have my top off up until at least an hour before the start of the game. So you can imagine December when there were no heaters in stadiums I would be the only one braving the cold with my top off.
It’s been mocked for many years yet I’ve done it for over 15 now. I also have to put my left sock, shin pad and boot on first. That one I can change but I think now it’s just subconscious.
The last one before I head out for the warm up I say a positive affirmation which my mum said to me and I have tattooed on my chest.
How have you found playing matches with no supporters in the ground?
I won’t lie, it’s been weird especially at the beginning but maybe now I’ve become accustomed to it and slowly flipping it back it’ll take one or two games.
The euphoria of a goal hasn’t changed yet running into a crowd after grabbing a last minute winner with the inevitable yellow card coming your way will be epic.
Genuinely though I think some players may find it easier, maybe less of a distraction and less pressure.
For me hearing them chant your name or small things like the banter with the away supporters I can’t wait to have them back.
Did it make things harder to mentally motivate yourself as a team to push harder?
Genuinely no I don’t think it did. Here at Wycombe it’s a close knit group and motivation came from within and our peers are doing more.
Is there anything you would look back on in your career and wish you’d done differently?
Yes, one would be understanding that loyalty in the industry doesn’t always exist.
Whether that be clubs agents fans etc the sooner you realise its a short career and not everyone is out there for your best interests the better.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve loved large periods of my career but naivety may have hindered things along the way.
Do you take notice of what is written on social media after a game?
No, I tend not to as I know it can spiral out of control. When I was younger I probably did a lot more but to be honest I’m my own worst critic and will know deep down how a game has gone.
Not too many years ago though I played with a younger lad, he made his first starting debut and we drew the game. He wasn’t at fault for anything but straight after the game the first thing he did was go on twitter and saw all the abuse.
I tried to console him as he was distraught its something you shouldn’t looks too deep into as it can eat you up. One week your hated next you’re the best thing since sliced bread.
Who do you think will be in the Euro final? And who will win it?
I’m going with a France Portugal final and France to win. To be honest I’m not sure who will be with France in the final due to the pathway but all I know is if you beat France you’ve got every confidence of winning the tournament.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
‘The harder you work the more luck comes your way’. To be honest it’s probably not the best bit of advice but it’s the one where it resonated on so many different levels on and off the field on numerous occasions. And when you think about it with many things it’s true.
Who do you consider to be the greatest inspiration within the world of football?
I know I stated Thierry Henry but he’s not the reason I started. I feel role models should start at home. And mine was my big brother. He played semi professionally and I would always go and watch. Even to the point I would whistle during parts of the game which would mean I expected him to score, (if only it was that easy).
Growing up he was my sounding board and he would take me to and from training on occasions 140mile round trips when in non league. I can honestly say I’m not sure how far I would’ve got without his support.
If you could have played with one player past or present, who would you choose?
Past 100% would’ve been my footballing idol Thierry Henry. I tried so hard to emulate his class on the pitch from staying out on the left wing to even now socks just above my kneecaps. The number 12 which I’ve worn for the majority of my career was given to me as I wanted 14 but it was taken so I took the closest number.
Present would be the goat Messi, I’ve watched him live a few times and was mesmerised.
What advice would you give to the next youngsters coming through in the game?
Work every day as if it’s your last. Leave no stone unturned and never leave the field whether that be training or matches with the mentality I could’ve done more.
Preparation is definitely key and there’s a lot of sacrifices along the way but if you’re disciplined, hungry and fearless it’s all worth it.
I see many players leaving clubs now without anything. Being in an academy through from 14-21 and clubs have left them without a path, everything has been geared towards professional football but in truth there’s a small percentage that make it through. Stay in education playing football you still have a lot of time to educate yourselves just in case the worst happens.. “Hope for the best, Prepare for the worst” (another great bit of advice).
Have you set yourself any goals (not literally) for the 2021-22 season?
In terms of footballing goals it would have to be to get Wycombe Wanderers back into the championship especially where the fans will be allowed into stadiums again and actually watch a full season of their team live.
Personally I would want to influence and help the younger generation a little more. Coming from non league to play in the premier league and internationally I have a lot of life experience in and out of the world of football but when it’s applied correctly especially in the footballing industry hopefully I can help maximise their careers.
I’ve done some modelling and really enjoyed it, I have a real interest in fashion so I’d love to explore that more.