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New regime at Hillsborough

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Michael Gray | 23:00 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Happy New Year to everyone - I hope you all had a good festive period. It seems a long time since my last blog and a long time since I last played a game, unfortunately.

We've got a new manager at Sheffield Wednesday and I think Alan Irvine is a great appointment for the club. Alan was named as the new gaffer last Friday and the players got to meet him for the first time the following day.

We had been set for a weekend off because the snow and ice caused so many postponements but the manager wanted to get us all out on the training ground as quickly as possible.

Before training, we had a meeting at which he came across really well. It was very positive and he certainly had everybody's attention when he was speaking - and that bodes well for the future because the club have clearly appointed someone who is very hungry.

Alan was in probably one of the safest jobs in English football as assistant to David Moyes at Everton but he had ambitions to be a manager and left to be Preston boss in 2007. He did a great job there and, in my eyes, Preston's loss is Wednesday's gain.

I knew Alan from his Everton days and a few of our players know the lads at Preston so we've also had feedback from them on what he's like, about his training sessions and the way he treats players and all of it has been good.

To be honest, from what I've seen so far, everything that I heard before seems totally true. He is a gentleman and his coaching so far has been great; very enjoyable and probably something different to what the lads have had in the past.

It's easy to say it but I am sure good results will follow. He had a tall order when he started at Preston but they won nine out of 14 games to secure safety and then went on to get into the play-offs the next season.

We have to set ourselves up in a similar way and achieve the targets the new manager has set us between now and the end of the season. I'm not saying what those targets are but they have certainly helped us focus on the training ground and that should translate into getting the results we need on matchdays.

Alan IrvineAlan Irvine has a local derby against Barnsley for his first game in charge at Hillsborough

Alan is certainly a training ground manager, he's not the kind who is happy to sit in an office while his coaching staff do the work. He is very hands-on and gets his points across in his own way, which he has obviously done throughout his career as a top coach in the Premier League.

The new gaffer has also made a point of having individual meetings with all the players. At this point I haven't had my meeting with him - he's doing it in squad number order and with me being number 33 that pretty much puts me at the back of the queue!

Sean McAuley did a really good job as caretaker boss and he has obviously spoken with Alan quite a bit to explain some of the situations in the club and the expectations here. The players have thanked Sean for what he did in the interim period and he is still a vital part of this club going forward as our academy manager.

The last game I played was at Leicester in mid-December because of injury and illness, so I won't have played for a month the next time I pull on the blue and white stripes. It has been a very frustrating month personally and I seem to have picked up far more bugs than is good for me too.

Since being back in training last week, we have all had to top up our fitness levels because we need to be ready for the tough run-in that we have coming up.

Five or six of the lads at Sheffield Wednesday live on the other side of the Pennines so we got stuck last week. We usually drive over the Woodhead Pass but when we tried getting in last Monday morning we found that nearly every road was closed off.

There were cars parked all over the road and we had to turn around and go back home for our own safety. Training was cancelled for a couple of days because of the snow but we certainly made up for it in the days that we managed to get in.

Last week's bleep and yoyo tests certainly took a toll. Players never look forward to this but it's a stamina test that you have to put yourself through three or four times a season.

For the bleep test, everyone lines up between two lines of cones, about 20 yards apart. You have to run between the cones to the time of the bleeps and those bleeps come quicker and quicker every time so you have to run quicker and quicker as you go. You basically run until you can't run any more.

The yoyo test is similar, but more like doing shuttle runs. Every time you do a shuttle run you get an eight second rest and then you have to go again. A beep tells you when you have to be at a certain point, running at a certain speed and, again, you pretty much run until you drop.

There is no way of cheating these tests because we all wear heart rate monitors. We all have to reach our maximum heart rate during the test and if a player were not to reach that level our fitness coach would pick up on it and the player would end up having to redo the test. These tests are never easy but the lads gave it a real good go and we saw some pretty good results.

We have a very tough run of games from now until the end of the season so we have to hit the ground running in our next one. There are no easy games and we need to get points on the board so let's hope 2010 is a good year for us.

The number of games called off because of the weather recently has been quite incredible. Most years you get the odd game called off in a season but it's pretty rare to have so many fall to the weather. It means there will soon be a fixture pile-up and when you don't have a large squad it is vital everyone is at the peak of fitness.

Everybody has to be ready because all of our players will probably be called upon at some point between now and the end of the season. We're raring to go and it's good to know everyone's fitness levels are right up there.

It has been a strange period because as footballers, you are always told by managers how important the Christmas period is because there are usually loads of games in a short period of time, but we've only played one league game since Christmas and that was on Boxing Day against Newcastle.

Now we are set for five games in a fortnight so we will have to treat late January as our 'Christmas period' and hopefully it will be a fruitful one.

We kick-off with a South Yorkshire derby at Barnsley for the new manager's first game and everyone is ready to get down to business.


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