AFC Bournemouth Women have returned to training for the first time since March, as they begin preparations for the 2020/21 campaign.
Steve Cuss’ side were sat top of the Southern Region Women’s Premier League when the fixtures came to a halt four months ago, with the season being declared null and void just weeks later.
Despite no start date for the new campaign, which will see the Cherries compete in the same tier again, government guidelines do mean that the team can return to small-group training, which has recently resumed up at Canford in a bid to ease the squad back in.
With sessions back up and running, manager Steve Cuss and captain Hannah Bennett have been speaking to afcb.co.uk about the challenges and protocols involved in the return to training.
“I think, first and foremost, it’s nice to have everyone back and to be able to take part in football because it was March when we played our last game,” Cuss began.
“That’s obviously the same for teams in all organisations and sectors, and I’m sure everyone’s priority is the health and wellbeing of others.
“The FA have introduced their back-to-playing guidelines, which we’ve now started. It is different and everyone is cautious, but it was nice to get all the players back in to at least start training again.
“We understand that it’s got to be a steady approach but, from a football point of view, it can be a little frustrating as there’s no tackling and we have to still social distance. We’ve brought them back in groups of five and each group is working with one of the coaches, so we’re making it work.”
Bennett also acknowledged the modifications in place, but admitted how pleased she was just to be back amongst the squad after such a long period away.
“It’s great to be back and it’s really nice to see everyone again,” she added.
“I think the longer it goes on, the more difficult it’ll get, but just having training back and being with the team is enough for us at the moment.”
“It’s so strange and so quiet, which isn’t normal for us! It’s going to take a bit of getting used to I think, but it’s what we need to do for now to keep everyone safe, so we’ll just knuckle down and get on with it.”
Despite the different approach to training, the pair both acknowledged plenty of positives that can be taken from the current structure of sessions.
“In a positive way, we can work closer with the players in small groups, so there’s lots that we can take,” continued Cuss.
“We can also work on things like fitness, but we haven’t got a season start day, which is quite challenging as it’s always useful to know how hard to work the players when you set pre-season up.
“Although, I have to say, the players certainly have come back in a fantastic shape. They’ve all looked after themselves and they’re raring to go, so I’m really pleased with that over the few months they’ve been away.”
Midfielder Bennett, who will be going into her fifth season with the club, explained how she was able to keep fit over lockdown, often while trying to continue her job as an early years teacher from home!
“To be honest, I was quite lucky and could do a lot over lockdown, but it’s just a completely different type of fitness that we’re trying to get back now to be ready for the season.
“I did a long walk every day, some HIIT sessions and Steve put together some workouts for us and sent them through, which has been really helpful.
“There’s also so many different social media influencers that do their workouts too, so it’s been good doing some of them.”
She wasn’t the only one trying to balance her work and fitness levels over lockdown, with a number of players doing their bit as key workers, as Cuss went on to explain.
“We have a real mix of players – some were on lockdown, we had others still working, some have been in hospitals and care homes, and we’re indebted to them with the fantastic work they’ve done in the NHS and as key workers.
“They were in our thoughts, particularly through the early part of lockdown and we’re very grateful to the excellent work they’ve done and continue to do.
“Now we’re very much looking forward to the season starting whenever it is safe to do so.
“We understand the decision to null and void it last year, but it was building up to an exciting finish. All the same teams remain in the league when it resumes and I’m sure it’ll be a really good competitive season.”
Bennett went on to add: “It was really frustrating how it ended, especially given the form we were in, but that’ll spur us on to go out there and smash it this year and make sure that we get that promotion we all want.”
Keep an eye on afcb.co.uk for any updates regarding fixtures and start dates for the women’s team.