By Kieran Murphy
JUST over two weeks ago sports clubs all over the country opened their doors and gates again. It was a cause for celebration. Such actions helped raise the spirits of communities.
On their return to the field, players could, initially, only train in small groups. Committee members put the procedures in place and by all accounts players and their management teams were happy to follow the government guidelines which were monitored closely. It’s all coming together now. Since Monday of last week, full contact training is allowed while clubs have received the go-ahead to organise challenge matches.
In normal circumstances, the Kilkenny hurling leagues and other cross-border leagues would be in full swing by now. Carlow hurling clubs had used these competitions to prepare their players for their own championships. They don’t have that luxury in 2020. It will be interesting to see how they adapt.
We asked a selection of club managers how they were coping since restrictions were lifted. How fit are their players? Has it been difficult to stay within the guidelines set down by the GAA and the government? Have any players opted to stay away because of the risk of bringing home the coronavirus to vulnerable family members?
Richie Doyle (Naomh Bríd)
“I suppose it has probably been frustrating for players not to be able to play matches. Now there is going to be pressure on players, especially dual players, to try and play both. In fairness, the GAA took it very seriously and observed all the Covid regulations for coaches and players. At the end of the day it is an amateur sport and it was right to do it. Having said that, it is good to be getting back down to the field.
“Before the contact came back it was good for players to be able to meet up with their friends. There is a bit more of a buzz now. I suppose you appreciate something more when you can’t do it.
“It hasn’t happen yet (players pulling out because of fear of contracting Covid-19). The way it is down in Naomh Bríd, players are coming back the whole time. The numbers are getting bigger and stronger the whole time. No-one has said they don’t want to participate in training. Any challenge matches which are coming up, I think lads are glad to be back. There are precautions being taken down at the field. Obviously the club has taken it very seriously, taking temperatures, using hand-sanitisers and using the questionnaire in relation to symptoms. When you see that going on and being taken so seriously, it puts lads at their ease and they are happy to take part in the session.”
Niall O’Donnell (St Mullins)
“It has been good since we got back. Luckily enough, even though the weather has changed, we haven’t had any bad nights yet. You can moan about it or you can realise everyone is in the same position and get on with it.
“We have had one player with concerns and he is not part of the panel. I totally respect that. I am sure we are not the only club who are in that position.
“We played a challenge match on Friday night against Thomastown. There was quite a big crowd at it. It was good for the two teams to go out and play hurling. The one thing about the lockdown is that the Thomastown pitch was in immaculate condition. Our pitch in Bahana is like a carpet. There will be no excuse for players now. It was a good enough game. They are an exceptional (intermediate) team. I don’t know how they didn’t win the Kilkenny championship last year. The game, to be fair, was a good opener, but I think a lot of lads were taking social distancing to the letter of the law. There was plenty of social distancing and there was hardly a shoulder! Fellas were just getting used to it again. I found it strange wondering where we could stand and asking people could we use this space or that space.
“When the championship starts it will be thick and fast from the very first ball. There will be no way to ease ourselves into it. We used to have time to get going with challenge matches but that is out the window now.”
Tommy Comerford (Ballinkillen)
“It is a lot different from normal, but lads are mad keen to get back playing. Anything we have to do we have done it and we have just got on with it.
“While we were off we stayed in contact with the players and any little training programmes we asked them to do they did it individually. In fairness, they posted up their times and their progress was monitored. They all stuck to it and came back in very good shape. The amount of work they have to do now means lads still have a bit to go but the ball work is the main thing now. The fitness levels were decent enough when they came back.
“We have organised a few challenge matches and that will get the hurling into them. Fitness levels are like anything else. You cannot beat match fitness and touch. Only games and high level training sessions will sort that.
“There is not much between any teams who are senior. Bagenalstown are back up and all the other teams have been senior for many years now. There is not much between any of us. Rangers and St Mullins are the two top teams obviously, having won championship after championship. We are happy enough to be back up there challenging so hopefully we can bring another element to it.
“A few lads have been hesitant (about returning to training). One saw what we were doing with social distancing and hand sanitisers. Another fella is not entirely comfortable about coming back yet, but we are not pressurising anybody to come back. Players can come back if they feel they are ready.”
Conor Phelan (Mount Leinster Rangers)
“Initially we had to break up into groups of 15 and it worked out well in that we have all the senior and under-20 players back. No-one is carrying injuries. There are big numbers involved in training so that is great for the three teams trying to get back on the horse as soon as they can. The new season will come around very quickly.
“No-one has come to me yet but that could change as time goes on. As of now, all players are available. Again, it has been articulated to the group that there are bigger things than hurling at the end of the day.
“The way they have been tied up over the last few months, everyone is mad keen to get back to either watch a match, do a bit of cardio themselves or little things like banter during training. That is all part of it.
“Obviously we have minors coming up from last year and you are trying to have a look at those. Then we would normally be looking at guys in different positions and that was what the cross border leagues and Bolger Cup was good for. We won’t have that so we will be getting a couple of challenge matches lined up to get some idea where we are at. Our focus is on trying to get a bit of fitness back and then get the hurling up to scratch as well.”