THE West Cork League’s safe return cannot happen soon enough for the local football community – but how will it look when action does resume?
Everyone’s focus, including that of the West Cork League committee, is on delivering a safe return to training and playing matches, but will everyone return?
A ball hasn’t been kicked in the WCL since last October while before that, going back to last March, it’s been stop-start, so there is a chance that some might have grown accustomed to life away from football and sport. Also, Covid-19 lockdowns have heaped further pressure on self-employed workers and business owners around West Cork.
‘Being out of football over 12 months, it is only now I realise how much time I put into it,’ Durrus FC manager Tadgh O’Sullivan says.
‘I’ve been immersed in football for over 20 years and had no idea of all the time I gave to it until the lockdowns. It was part of my week and my family were used to it. I’ll never get away with half as much (time away) again!
‘Obviously, the possibility of Covid-19 coming back is everyone’s biggest worry. Coming out of the pandemic, my other greatest fear is that older players with families, people with businesses to run and long hours to put in, will think twice about going back playing football.
‘I know the vast majority of Durrus’ players and every other West Cork League club are chomping at the bit to go back training and playing. But the reality is that Covid-19 and all the restrictions will make a lot of players think twice before committing so much of their free time again. That is the same for all sports and not just football.’
Drinagh Rangers legend Mike Doolan echoed the Durrus manager’s sentiments but also pointed out that the most recent lockdowns may also attract newcomers to the region’s football community.
‘You might have fellas or girls on the wrong side of 30 who might say “I’m a year older and a year stiffer” and may not decide to go back playing at all,’ Doolan says.
‘There will be those who have not played for 12 months and will not have missed it. They may well have realised the amount of time they were giving up and not want to do that anymore.
‘The other side of that argument is that there will be lots of people who might never have been involved in football, parents or children, and will be desperate to get involved in it, or any sport once restrictions are lifted.’
Both Doolan and O’Sullivan believe having as many people vaccinated as possible is necessary before a full return to West Cork League on-field action can take place.
‘For me personally, I miss soccer but it can only come back when the time is right,’ Doolan says.
‘My personal view would be that everyone would have to have the vaccine first before any games can take place. There are many West Cork League players who happen to be diabetics or asthmatics and it would be unfair for them to miss out. That’s why everyone should be vaccinated before we get back to some kind of normality.
‘Bottom line, everyone has missed the West Cork League and it has shown how vital sport is to people, especially those living in rural Ireland.’
‘I think that (everyone vaccinated) is the only way to go,’ Tadgh O’Sullivan says.
‘I’m not sure about playing league football during the summer months anyway as so many of our players will have other commitments. Every sport will be coming back in some shape or form as soon as it is safe and that’s why I’d favour a later return for the West Cork League.
‘The likes of Clonakilty and Spartak Mossgrove would be challenging for league titles and cups with their strongest teams out. It would be a lot harder for them, as well as other clubs, to field their strongest team in the middle of a GAA championship. What I’d prefer to see, if it were possible, is for all the West Cork League cups to be played off over the summer, giving teams enough competitive matches before start the leagues later in the year.’
Both Doolan and O’Sullivan agree, too, that everyone is missing the West Cork League. It’s a huge part of the local sport DNA.
‘I’d go for a walk most evenings, passing our Canon Crowley Park home ground, and it is awful not to see the floodlights on,’ Doolan says.
‘Normally, there would be floodlights on and the pitches full nearly six nights a week. Now, even during the day, no one is using them. No young fellas or girls kicking around. The whole thing is just eerie, to be honest with you.’
Durrus FC is also eager to get back on the pitch when they can, not just for the physical benefits but the social side too.
‘It goes without saying but anyone involved in the West Cork League is missing it terribly,’ Tadgh O’Sullivan says.
‘Just to be out at matches with your players and club members, of course you miss it. The banter, the craic at training and, of course, all the usual drama you experience at West Cork League matches. I miss it as much as all the Durrus players and other clubs do. Missing out on the social side of the league has been as difficult as the physical and sporting side of it.’