BOBBIE O’Dwyer admits that the Cork minor footballers are venturing into the unknown this Tuesday night when they take on Kerry in the Munster Minor Football Championship – but the big positive is that the class of 2020 gets the chance to represent their county.
In October when all minor and U20 inter-county championships were postponed, the fear was that these competitions would be written off and players would miss the chance to play for their county.
But with Level 5 Covid restrictions eased last week, the GAA gave the green light for underage inter-county championships to return.
Next Tuesday, reigning All-Ireland champions Cork – with almost an entire new squad – travel to take on defending Munster champs Kerry in a provincial semi-final at Austin Stack Park in Tralee (throw-in, 7pm).
‘It’s a very tight run-in and that allows us get five training sessions in place,’ Cork minor football boss Bobbie O’Dwyer explains.
‘To even get lads up to speed, an internal game is all we can do because we can’t play any challenge games, but it’s the same for every other county.
‘In fairness, our lads were doing stuff on their own but that’s very difficult, especially for young lads who are 16 and 17 years of age. This is a great group of young fellas, they were doing their exercises diligently but it’s at a different pace when you are doing it collectively at inter-county level. It’s an altogether different level of intensity.’
The first training session was held last Thursday night and O’Dwyer was buoyed by the players’ energy and enthusiasm, and he’s delighted that this group gets the chance to pull on the Cork jersey in a championship game.
‘It does your heart good when you go down to a training session with a group of young lads who are so determined to represent their county,’ says O’Dwyer.
‘This is a great group and for a lot of them this is their only chance to represent Cork at this age. Some will go on to U20 and senior, and some won’t get that opportunity so this is their chance now to realise a dream they’ve had, to represent their county.
‘You are measuring yourself against the best that’s out there and you are trying to be the best that you can be.
‘It’s a great honour for the players and their clubs, and their families, too. Their parents drive them to training, coming from Beara, West Cork, North Cork, East Cork, all over the county, so for them to see their son have an opportunity to fulfil a dream is very rewarding.’
With such a tight run-in to their derby with Kerry and with no form to judge either team, O’Dwyer accepts that both sides will be venturing into the unknown. The Cork management will set their players internal objectives and they have their own performance indicators to meet, but playing a minor championship game on a cold mid-December night under lights is a lot different to lining out on a sunny warm evening in June.
‘I really don’t know how to read this because none of the teams know how good they are,’ O’Dwyer explains.
‘We would have had a number of challenge games last February and March but at this age some of the lads that were going quite well then may not be at the same level now.
‘It’s a different type of pitch you’re dealing with now so are you going to look for a more physical type of player this time of year? Does the faster, more skilful player come out? There are a lot of different things to consider because this is different to setting out a team in June or July.’