THINGS are in a strange kind of stasis at the moment.
We have the outline GAA calendar for 2021 to hand but, with the best will in the world, we don’t have a huge level of confidence in it right now. That’s not the fault of those in Croke Park, who carried out a difficult job well in running off the championships last year, but, as we’re all aware, the beast that is Covid-19 is as potent and as widespread than ever before.
You know things are bad when you’re comparing and contrasting lockdowns (or is it ‘locksdown’, like attorneys general?), but this one seems far closer to the original than the sequel, where the playing of games provided some welcome respite.
So it is that a decision for a late February start to the leagues seems like a shrewd call by the authorities but even that could appear optimistic if the figures don’t improve to a noticeable extent. We will nevertheless hope that the plans work out and that Cork can get up and running at home to Laois in Division 2 South of the Allianz FL on February 28th.
With just three regular games in the league – and hopefully a semi-final and final – and no pre-season competitions, chances to impress are going to be precious. We could focus on any number of Rebel hopefuls seeking to make their mark in 2021 but, while the sports editor regularly begs us to ‘go big on the column wordcount’, we’ll stick to five players and a 700-word limit – always leave them wanting more, we were told.
Mark White (Clonakilty): When the goalkeeper decided at the end of 2019 to take a year off the panel to spend a summer in America, little did anyone realise what would actually come to pass. White stayed in Ireland and played for Clon in the championship but, with Cork having gone through the early season without him, he didn’t seek to be parachuted back. Micheál Martin took the number 1 jersey for the championship and now White, back on the panel, will battle the Nemo Rangers man and Anthony Casey of Kiskeam for the starting berth.
Liam O’Donovan (Clonakilty): White’s clubmate missed the whole season after suffering a cruciate ligament injury in a challenge game in early July and the decision to have county before club this year has counted against him as a hoped-for May return will be around the time of the Munster final, should Cork get there. Breaking into the team during the championship with little or no game-time logged will be difficult but the marauding wing-back showed in 2019 that there are few on the squad who possess the qualities as he does.
Ciarán Sheehan (Éire Óg): After a promising return to Gaelic football last spring following a long stint away from Cork and Ireland, Sheehan was another ruled out of the championship, suffering a knee injury that also denied Éire Óg his presence for the latter stages of their SAFC and IAHC runs – though they are in the finals of both. Cork certainly missed the experience and know-how that Sheehan could have brought against Tipperary and, with Paul Kerrigan retired, he is the only member of the squad with an All-Ireland senior medal.
Damien Gore (Kilmacabea): The attacker will be 22 this year and, while he showed signs of making a strong impact early in the 2020 season, he only appeared as an extra-time sub against Kerry in the championship – playing a key part in the lead-up to Mark Keane’s decisive goal – and wasn’t called upon against Tipperary. Brian Hurley, Michael Hurley and Cathail O’Mahony are all in the mix for roles in the inside line, so the task is not inconsiderable.
Kevin Crowley (Millstreet): A classy defender but a player beset by regular injury troubles, the most recent a shoulder fracture in the league that meant he was ruled out for the rest of the year, with the extension to the calendar not enough to allow for a return. Now 26, he will be aware of how stiff the competition for places in the panel has become as the alumni of the 2019 All-Ireland U20 win make their mark.