THINGS have changed quickly in a short space of time for Clonakilty’s Maurice Shanley.
Less than three years ago, Shanley was gearing up for his first year at U20 level with Cork, playing at midfield and wing-forward as the Rebels’ campaign ended with Munster final defeat to Kerry.
Fast-forward to 2019 and he had been repurposed as a full-back by new U20 manager Keith Ricken, starring as Cork went all the way to All-Ireland glory. That paved the way for progression to the senior ranks and he made a positive impact during the early part of last year’s interrupted Allianz FL Division 3 campaign.
When things resumed, he was named in the side for the Munster SFC semi-final clash with Kerry in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The prize did come with the kicker that he had to patrol Kerry captain and marquee forward David Clifford but limiting him to three points from play is about as well as anybody else has managed.
The job he did there is best summed up by one of the more experienced members of the Cork panel, Mark Collins.
‘He has taken it all in his stride,’ he says, ‘he is a quiet lad but nothing seems to faze him.
‘He was given the job of marking David Clifford on his championship debut and did as well as any of the top defenders in the country have done over the last couple of years on him.’
A biochemistry student at the University of Limerick, Shanley is based closer to home for the moment, on placement with the Carbery Group and based at their Ballineen facility from Monday-Friday, involved in research and development.
Having the work to occupy himself is no bad thing, especially with inter-county training limited to online meetings.
‘We have a few running sessions and a few gym sessions and then a Zoom call,’ Shanley says.
‘There’s a big focus on skills as well. We’re given things to work on, such as a few kicking drills to do by ourselves, or soloing or handpassing. It’s important to keep the variety up but it can get boring.
‘You miss the lack of social interaction that you get from training with other lads. The hardest thing is not knowing when we’re going back.
‘Easter is there provisionally but that could change and it could be later again. It’s hard to keep going by yourself.’
When Cork do get going, the mission will be to try to forget the Munster final defeat to Tipperary and instead work on building on the form that earned them promotion from Division 3 of the league before seeing off Kerry.
With the league compressed into a tighter timeframe, harnessing momentum will be key. For Shanley, 2021 will be about adding to his impressive start to life at senior, even if the call to start against Kerry wasn’t something he taken for granted.
‘I suppose I was a bit surprised, alright,’ he says.
‘At the same time, I didn’t let it affect me too much, it was a case of focusing and getting on with the job.
‘The Tipp game was a big disappointment. Ideally, we’ll try to work on the Kerry game and show what we can do.’
Certainly, senior compared to U20 is a different ball-game.
‘I’d have to say physicality is the main thing,’ Shanley says.
‘The whole speed, power, everything – it’s all a step up and even the skill level is a way higher.’
And given the job of marking someone like Clifford, is there a focus on the attacker or can that be counter-productive?
‘You do a small bit of that and look at what he does,’ Shanley says, ‘maybe there’s a certain way he kicks or whatever.
‘You don’t want to get too focused on that, either. It’s important that you’re concentrating on your own game more than anything else.’
For now, his future looks set to be close to his own goal, but he doesn’t mind that.
‘The first year at U20, I was midfield or wing-forward,’ he says, ‘but then the second year I was moved back to the full-back line and I’ve been there ever since.
‘At the start, it was tough, but the more practice I got there, the easier it became. I was just put back there one day at training and I was kept there!’
He has also moved back the field with his club Clonakilty and shone for them, too. He is also keen to help the Brewery town make an impact in the senior championship, whenever that may be.
‘We’ve been doing a few Zoom classes with Clon too, it’s good to keep that going as well,’ he says.
‘The lads that aren’t with Cork work as hard if not harder than we do – it’s nearly harder going back with Clon after being with Cork!’