THE so-called new normal collided with the old world at Kilbrittain’s grounds at Clahavanna on the first weekend of GAA games being allowed since the Covid-19 interruption.
Neighbours Argideen Rangers were the visitors for a challenge match as both teams gear up for the beginning of the delayed championship in a fortnight – Kilbrittain against Barryroe in the lower IHC and Argideen against Dungourney in intermediate A.
Players had to tog out and do their stretching and activation drills at home, bringing two water bottles with them to the game. Boots were put on at the car before using the hand sanitiser outside the dressing rooms – which were out of action apart from usage as a store-room for the tea and coffee shop outside.
Each side entered the pitch at their dugout and elbows were touched rather than hands shaken before and after the match. At half-time, players drank their own water and at the end of the game, the pre-match process was reversed, leaving the pitch at the specific exit gate, players cooling down separately and changing their boots just before getting in their cars.
It meant wet drives home before showering on what was a night borrowed from late autumn, with wind and rain sweeping across the venue, but at least the local-derby element meant that there weren’t any long journeys for the protagonists.
Kilbrittain won the game by 1-6 to 0-6, having led by 0-5 to 0-1 at half-time after playing with the elements. Mark Hickey’s goal early in the second half gave them a cushion and while Argideen had the bulk of the play thereafter, their efforts were frustrated by stout Kilbrittain defending.
For Kilbrittain manager Jamie Wall, the new guidelines haven’t been too much of an impediment.
‘It’s been grand,’ he says.
‘Ross Cashman is doing a great job as Covid officer and everything is all laid out, we have the sanitiser stations and the one-way system in the pitch.
‘From our point of view, the people involved in trying to get us off the ground have done a really good job so they’ve made life really easy for us in that sense.
‘It’s just a case of doing what you’re told as well. We defer to Marion [Twohig, club secretary] and Rossy and we fill out our questionnaires and we’ve all done the e-learning course. We were strict about that, that nobody on the panel or management was allowed to come up until such time as they had that done.
‘It was just a case of being methodical about it and procedural but that’s no harm, either. It’s best practice so it’s good habits for all of us. They’re new things to get used to but it becomes second nature quite quickly, the same as the measures we’re taking in everyday life.’
Wall doesn’t mind the fact that there’s a shorter lead-in to the championship compared to the usual way of coming back in December and targeting a game in April, but it’s a situation that’s not without its challenges.
‘The biggest one really is prioritising what you want to get done,’ he says.
‘Realistically, you’re not going to get everything done so it’s about focusing on the areas where you can have the biggest impact.
‘It’s about getting your team settled and trying to establish a pattern of play in four or five weeks. We’re a new management so we’re just trying to get them to play we want to – not that it’s the right or wrong way, it’s just our way – but we’re lucky enough that we’ve been involved with the guys who were U21 over the last few years.
‘Coaching is like teaching and the early days are always a case of “getting to know you”, figuring out the lie of the land in the class, and a team is no different.
‘Obviously, in the last two months you’ve tried to maintain those relationships as best you can but a group dynamic is unique and you can’t replicate it.
‘That’s a big thing that we’re going to try to work on for the next month or so. We’re blessed with numbers, we’ve 40 or so across our intermediates and juniors. Getting that group ethos is the big challenge but it’s also really fun.
‘You can get bogged down in “Xs and Os coaching” and forget about why you’re doing it all.
‘With a shorter run-in, lads are more focused from the get-go. Sometimes, you could be training in January or February and lads are fluting around because they know that the real stuff doesn’t start until March. That side of it is nice, it’s great for players to have that focus.’
His opposite number, Argideen manager Barry Harte, was able to take positives despite the result.
‘I’m happy out with tonight,’ he said.
‘Number one, I said to them beforehand to go out and enjoy it and we came back injury-free, which is a very important thing.
‘You’d have been afraid that they’d come out and be like calves or something but it was all good, even if the conditions were awful.’
And the upcoming championship preparations? ‘Chaos, chaos!’ he laughed. ‘But, look, you have to be flexible and you have to roll with the punches.’