CORK senior football manager Ronan McCarthy admits that he isn’t confident about the prospects of the inter-county season going ahead without a hitch.
While the Munster SFC semi-final with Kerry on November 8th looms on the horizon, the Rebels must first turn their attention towards securing promotion from Division 3 of the Allianz Football League. On Saturday (4pm), they host Louth at Páirc Uí Chaoimh before a trip to Longford to round off the campaign, with just a point needed to guarantee top spot and a return to Division 2.
However, the constant fear of the imposition of stricter limitations in the battle to control Covid-19 means that McCarthy is aware how easily the house of cards could tumble.
‘I wouldn't say I'm confident at all,’ he said.
‘A lot of it is luck. You see the Irish soccer team even at the weekend, how one positive case ... and it's the close contacts are your big issue really. To be fair to our guys from the point of view of training, and our procedures in training, they have stuck to it regimentally, wearing a mask in dressing rooms, all that kind of stuff. So what you hope that where there is a positive case, your number of close contacts is at a minimum.
‘That's all we can do from our end. That's only one aspect of where players are congregating. Obviously, people have to go to work, and go to college and everything else.
‘You're in the lap of the gods there a small bit, in relation to the exposure that players might have, but we hope that by following the procedures that are there, and all the different protocols in relation to the prevention of Covid that it gives us the best chance of not running into that kind of difficulty.’
Cork and other inter-county sides have been able to congregate since mid-September, though the closing stages of the club championships meant that numbers were low and reinforcements had to come in. On top of that, McCarthy and his management team have had to deal with a number of injury absentees.
‘Obviously, you're aware of Liam O'Donovan, who's long-term out,’ he said.
‘Tomás Clancy of Fermoy, it looks like Christmas before he's back. He was stretchered off in a club championship game. He's a very bad calf tear and some Achilles damage. Christmas should get him back up and running.
‘Kevin Crowley, at this stage his shoulder, a knock in a club championship game, he's had issues with his shoulder so he'll need a procedure on that so that'll rule him out in the short term for us.
‘And Ciarán Sheehan had a minor procedure on his knee last week, so that'll mean he'll have no part to play in league or championship for us this year.
‘The first week we were back which was the week of the 14th, we had only six or seven of players who were out of (club) championship and on the panel before lockdown, so we brought in some U20 players who had done well in the club championship.
‘Niall Hartnett (Douglas), Jack McCarthy from Carrigaline, Blake Murphy (St Vincent’s) has been with us, Daniel O'Mahony from Knocknagree. Another young lad, Gavin Creedon, a goalkeeper from Kilshannig has come in, so we've brought players in.
‘We weren't expecting players back last week. Up to the start of last week, we'd 16 players who were supposed to be playing county finals last weekend. So what has happened is we've had a groundswell of numbers last week.
‘We'll review that over the coming days. We'll obviously have to tighten that down a bit. We've big numbers this week.’
There is at least better news with regard to Clonakilty’s Seán White and Seán Powter of Douglas.
‘Seán White came back in with us and was fine, was training,’ McCarthy said. ‘He nicked his hamstring in a club hurling championship game for Clonakilty. We expect him back this week.
‘Seán Powter was back in with us and was training very well. Both players are players with a history of hamstring trouble and you are obviously going to be cautious with them.
‘As I say, Sean White should be back training fully this week at some stage. Powter could be a bit longer than that, but he has just started back running. We’ll see how we progress with him, but given his history over the last three years, we’ll take it cautiously.’
And, while the suspension of club action has meant that the county Premier SFC final between Castlehaven and Nemo Rangers has been delayed, the positive for Cork is that McCarthy has been able to work with a full panel. ‘Last week, it was a great, to be honest with you,’ he said.
‘Obviously, we had a lot of guys, Haven and Nemo guys, Duhallow, Barrs were involved in club championship matches that Sunday, but were in with us on the Tuesday. To be fair to all the players that came back in, the attitude was good and the mindset was right, and we had a very healthy, productive week of training to be fair to the players.
Into his own
‘We were seeing (coach) Cian (O’Neill) coming into his own in particular, and Kevin Smith in that we had to be very careful we the load we put on the players, but still tried to get the max out of the sessions. I think the combination of Cian there and Kevin has been outstanding from that point of view.’
The games against Louth and Longford will allow the chance to work with the team ahead of the championship. McCarthy is grateful that that opportunity is there, though he is in the dark as to how the 2021 league will operate.
‘Very thankful,’ he said.
‘I assumed it wasn't going to happen, so to get the opportunity is welcome. I'm not sure what difference it will make from the point of view, in that if there is a league, and I know there is a bit of chatter about it already, that the restructure of the league next year may be necessary to regionalise it and all that.
‘So, at one point, it was probably very important from the tier-two aspect, and being involved in the tier-one championship. Now I'm not so sure, depending on how things progress with Covid, because there may be a restructuring necessary anyway.’