CORK goalkeeper Mark White was already on a break from the inter-county scene when the Covid-19 outbreak upset his plans to travel abroad.
At 22 years of age, the Cork senior shot-stopper has time on his side as he finishes the fourth and final year of his Commerce studies at UCC. The Clonakilty clubman made headlines earlier this year when he announced he was taking time out from his GAA career and spending the summer in San Francisco.
Ronan McCarthy’s first-choice goalkeeper decided it was time to take a break from the rigours of inter-county football.
‘It was last September, when I was heading into my final year at college and finishing my work placement with Ernst and Young in Cork, that I made the decision to take a break,’ White told The Southern Star.
‘Ernst and Young offered me a graduate programme to come back for the next three and a half years which would begin in September 2020. I realised that meant that this would be my last chance to travel away from home. So, I spoke to my brother Sean, Thomas Clancy and a few others who all said that travelling was a particularly good experience. I decided I might as well do the same.
‘To be fair to Ronan (McCarthy), he understood where I was coming from and said he did the same when he was younger. He was very accommodating but asked me to stay on with Cork for a month and to keep training. That was just in case I changed my mind but once I told him I was definitely going he was very good to me.
‘The entire Cork management team have been very fair to me since I first came on board and gave me the space to make up my mind without putting any pressure on me.’
It is clear the UCC student put a lot of thought into his decision and understood the ramifications of what travelling to the USA meant to his inter-county career. White’s position as starting goalkeeper on the Cork senior team would be lost and there is no guarantee of getting it back either with the likes of Nemo Rangers’ Micheál Martin waiting in the wings.
In the interim, White could never have envisaged a global pandemic spreading around the world and throwing his plans into disarray.
‘Taking a year out is becoming more and more common in GAA,’ the Cork and Clonakilty senior added.
‘People want to enjoy the experience of travelling when they are young and not regret taking the opportunity when they are older. I was due to go to San Francisco before June and return sometime after August. I had agreed to play football for Ulster San Francisco GAA Club while I was over there so a lot depended on how far they would go in their championship.
‘Covid-19 has ruined those plans. I can’t see much if any travelling happening this year but in the grand scheme of things you can’t be upset about it. Staying at home is the right thing to do.
‘As for Cork, I have no plans to go back right now. To be honest, I don’t think it would be right at this stage. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going back when the lads have been training together all year. I think it will be just club commitments for now.
‘Don’t get me wrong, I am prepared to eventually fight for the goalkeeping position again. Competition is fierce so I fully understand that I will have to be at my best to have any chance of featuring for Cork in the future.’
White first broke into the Cork senior football set-up back in 2018 having impressed at the minor inter-county grade over a 24-month period. Regularly featuring between the sticks (and occasionally outfield) for Clonakilty, it was no surprise the brother of another Cork senior, Sean, attracted the attention of the Cork management team.
It was Peadar Healy who extended an invitation to sample the Cork senior set-up two weeks prior to Cork’s 2017 All-Ireland qualifier loss to Mayo at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. The following year, new Rebel manager Ronan McCarthy asked the then 20-year-old to officially join the Cork seniors and compete for the number one jersey.
‘The jump up to senior was fairly difficult,’ White said.
‘You were now training three or four times a week as well as attending college. It was a big commitment but (definitely) worth the effort. I made my senior debut in the National League against Tipperary at the opening of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.’
Standingsix foot four inches tall, White already possessed the physical attributes needed to become a senior inter-county player. Yet, the mental toughness required to play in one of football’s most unforgiving positions was an equally essential trait if the UCC Commerce student was going to make it.
‘You are always mentally drained after an (inter-county) match no matter who you are playing,’ the Cork shot-stopper commented.
‘As a goalkeeper, you cannot switch off for one second. Even when you don’t have the ball, you are ordering players around and trying to reduce the possibility of conceding a score. When you do have possession, all eyes are on you and there is no margin for error.’
2020 has not turned out how White had originally envisaged, but the Clonakilty goalkeeper is ready to fight for the Cork number one jersey if and when the opportunity arises in the future.