AFC Bournemouth Women’s manager Steve Cuss is relishing having his side back training next week after a three-month lay-off due to Covid-19.
All grassroots football was halted following the Government’s latest lockdown, but an end is in sight for the Cherries.
Despite their season being null and voided last week, competitive football is set to resume in April, with the side to feature in an exciting new cup which will be made up of teams in the local area and run across the next two months.
Speaking with afcb.co.uk, Cuss began by giving his reaction to the news that league fixtures would be curtailed for the second season in a row.
“I think the FA had a really difficult decision,” he said.
“They had so many different clubs that were at so many different levels in terms of being able to come back and play.
“It comes down to things like pitch availability and the availability of players, but in the end they made the decision to curtail the season and we fully back that.
“I’ve then got to give credit to our league who have decided to put a cup competition together that will last over the next two months.
“We’re excited for that because it would’ve been harder if we were just playing friendlies.
“Now we can be focused on a cup competition, which we want to do really well in and finish the season as strongly as we can.”
With training set to resume on Monday, it’s not just the opportunity to compete again that will be welcomed by Cuss’ squad, with the side having not seen each other since the end of 2020 when the tier system initially brought a halt to sessions.
As the manager explained, it hasn’t been easy for anyone.
“I think it’s been a tough three months in terms of the players having to be at home.
“Obviously, football isn’t in the forefront of everyone’s mind and that’s quite right. The priority is to keep everybody safe, but there’s no doubt that sport and football plays a big part in players’ lives.
“When that’s taken away, it’s really difficult, so the three months at home has been tough for the players without training.
“They’ve done a lot of fitness work and we’re really looking forward to having them back with us next week. I’m sure they’ll be in good shape to get going.”
While the club’s head of community plays such a key role on the pitch with the Women’s team, he also spoke of his more pastoral role and the need to touch base with players throughout the country’s third national lockdown.
“My role as the manager was trying to understand which players needed a little bit more contact than others.
“The group is very mixed – some are at work, some are working from home, we have teachers that are spending a lot of time delivering lessons, so their lives are really busy.
“I’ve used this time to try and speak to players and talk through a few things to make sure they’re ok.
“One or two have been getting fitness sessions off us as well, on top of the group ones we’ve been sending out, so we’ve used this time to try and learn a bit more about the players and almost plan out for the future as it’s important that we hit the ground running when we come back.
“Now we have that clear date when we can come back, we can plan ahead and it does bring a sense of normality.”
However, with the squad having had no football to focus on for the last few months, they didn’t let their time go to waste and decided to embark on a remarkable challenge for charity.
Cuss’ side set themselves a goal of covering 5,000 kilometres in February either by running or cycling in order to raise money for mental health charity and EFL partner, Mind.
“The challenge was one that I thought was great from my point of view given how much fitness was involved!” the manager laughed.
“They were looking for that little bit of motivation. When you play competitive sport and then that competitive sport is taken away, they missed that bit of competition and that challenge of running or cycling the 5,000 kilometres as a squad was tough, but they had to motivate each other to get through.
“I thought that competitive spirit really shone through. I’m delighted that they did that and that they raised money for a really important charity.
“Across the last three months, aside from the challenge, we’ve also been setting them different fitness challenges, with HIIT workouts and a running pattern just to keep a general level up but the charity challenge was all on them.
“I think they’ve stuck to their fitness really well and we’ll see the benefits of that as well.”
As the countdown to a return nears its end, Cuss concluded by highlighting the importance of a measured approach to the first few sessions back and how the squad will still have to build up to match fitness.
“They are competitive, we get that in training and in matches.
“Although the challenge can’t replicate competing for three points or a place in the next round of the cup, it was a challenge competing against each other and they certainly wanted to be top of the leaderboard each day!
“When they come back to training and start kicking a ball again, that will be a different type of fitness work.
“We have to be cautious with them, but we’ve got a period of time where we’ll get the footballs back out and get used to playing again.
“We just need to look after them as we don’t want any muscle injuries after a long layoff.”
AFC Bournemouth Women are proudly supported by two local companies.
Thank you to Bournemouth University for being the front of shirt sponsor and thank you to Vitality for supporting our Women's and Girls setup.