WHEN Jamie Wall took the reins of the Kilbrittain intermediate hurling team for 2020, he was expecting April to be a busy month, gearing up for a local-derby championship opener against Barryroe.
Instead, circumstances outside of his, or anyone else’s control, have meant a prolonged period of down-time. Naturally, it’s not what he would have chosen, but it’s a situation he feels can have its plus-points.
As a coach or a manager, there is a feeling of powerlessness in being unable to work with players, but adaptability is an important and necessary skill to have.
‘It’s something that we’re having to evolve with,’ he says.
‘When the first restrictions were applied, we had sessions that lads could do on their own or in smaller groups, while maintaining all of the correct social distancing.
‘Then there was a further announcement, saying you shouldn’t be going in any sort of groups, so we had to tell lads to go on their own. Obviously, all of the pitches are closed and the gates are locked, so lads doing what they can to stay in a bit of shape.
‘Some of the running plans that Mikey Kearney gave the lads can’t be done by everyone because they wouldn’t have the space at home. A lot of guys are making use of the natural terrain, we’ll say, around Kilbrittain. They’re getting runs in on a loop within 2km of their houses.
‘They’re just trying to stay fit. I think everybody knows that, when we get back to the pitch, more specific stuff will have to be done. It’s just a case of keeping yourself in as good a shape as possible, so that the first two or three weeks aren’t as awful as they could be.
‘I’m always trying to find the positive in stuff and, if nothing else, this is making lads realise that, as aside from winning games and championships, you should be trying to keep yourself fit throughout the year for your own benefit.
‘People are realising that in a lot of places, so there could be a lot of positive life lessons out of this whole thing and that can’t be bad.’
For the past four years, Wall has managed the Mary Immaculate College Fitzgibbon Cup team, winning the competition in 2017 and reaching the final last year. In addition, he was involved as coach to Limerick senior club Kilmallock in 2019 and also guided the Cork U16s to victory in their national competition.
However, nothing will be allowed to interfere with his management of his home club.
‘That’s all it will be,’ he says, ‘it could be my only involvement and there’ll be no season!
‘It was just that, coming home to the club here was always only ever going to be something I would do on its own.
‘I was never going to make two halves of myself with the job here. It’s not that any job is more or less important but I saw over the last two years with Kilmallock at senior level that being involved with a club team is very much all-encompassing.
‘It’s a full season but in normal circumstances it’s a messed-up season because you’re trying to get ready for two championships – though our April is gone now.
‘You’re probably dealing with a wider array of personalities with a club, too. Not that everyone’s the same at inter-county but at that level you tend to have a lot more like-minded guys. At club level, you’ve a wider age-range – you have guys who are 18 and guys who are 38 – whereas at inter-county it’s generally between 20 and 28.
‘One thing that I learned from John Brudair in Kilmallock is that, with a club team, it’s not something that you can do properly if you’re spreading yourself thinly. You don’t want to do any club half-right but when it comes to your own, you certainly don’t compromise that in any way, shape or form.’
However, Covid-19 has served to compromise things. With no matches or training, Wall can’t plan at a micro-level. ‘I think it’s very hard at the moment,’ he says, ‘because there’s no end in sight.
‘There’s no date to aim for and that makes it tougher. Obviously, you can always be thinking about stuff.
‘I watched the Tipperary and Wexford semi-final from 2019 on TG4 recently and, when you know the result, you look at games differently, you look at different decisions made during the game and the effect they had.
‘You’re constantly learning from games in that sense, you start to look for patterns and turning points. You look at the overall narrative because you have that final end result.
‘Personally, I’d be trying to stay away from anything specific, purely because it could drive you mad when you don’t have any game in sight. We have to reconcile ourselves to the possibility that we won’t get back on the pitch this year.
‘I know some people are giving out but I think the GAA have done quite well not to panic. People are comparing it to the Olympics and saying that a decision has to be made, but you could run the championship at three weeks’ notice. It wouldn’t be as good in terms of the standard of play but they’re not under the same pressure as those big international events to make any hard and fast calls. Why not just wait and see where we’re going to be in three weeks’ time and then make a call? I’m the first person to give the GAA stick when I think they deserve but I think they’ve done well not to make any big pronouncements, one way or the other.’
And it is with such a level attitude that he views sport right now, but at the same time he doesn’t feel that there is a need to drop everything.
‘We’re all well aware that there are more important things than hurling and football going on at the moment,’ he says.
‘I don’t think that in itself should diminish from the fact that hurling and football and soccer and rugby are an important part of people’s lives, either the lads directly involved or the community around them.
‘We can care about two or three things at the same time. We can try to make sure that lads stay fit and healthy for the sake of their careers but also for the sake of their own health.
‘We can understand that and also know that there’s a far more important thing going on, but that doesn’t mean you can’t care about hurling and football. If that was the case, you’d never care about them because there’s always something more important going on.
‘I don’t want to sound flippant or have people think that GAA is all I care about, but when it comes down to it, it’s all I really have any knowledge about.
‘With the bigger things in life, I’m content to do what we’re told for a while and hope for the best. When it comes to sport, you’re trying to make lemonade with the lemons you’re given.’