WHILE much of the focus around the return of GAA action at the moment centres on the 2021 season beginning, the 2020 All-Ireland U20 hurling and minor hurling and football championships must still be completed.
With Cork in the U20 hurling final, they await either Dublin or Galway, who must meet in the Leinster decider. Skibbereen native Gordon Crowley is part of the Tribesmen’s backroom team and, with no ‘proper’ training possible, it’s a case of making the remote meetings interesting.
‘We went back at ten days’ notice to play Laois in Portlaoise at the beginning of December,’ he says.
‘We won that, which was a good dry run because the Kilkenny game was a week later in the same location and at the same time. It just got everybody involved in the protocol of going to games, driving on their own, entering the venue – certainly, the two games I was at, the people there were top-class in terms of checking things.
‘We beat Kilkenny and it’s great to get over them at any stage, and then the following Wednesday night, we were back in lockdown again and the Leinster final was off.
‘There was work done earlier in the year and it was a lot about skills challenges and different things like that – that only goes so far. Players got their strength and conditioning programmes and stuff to work on but something that has been beneficial has been breaking the panel into smaller groups.
‘So, instead of having 30 lads on a call, it’s six or eight players per member of the management team. You get better interaction and engagement in those settings.
‘They all have their personal programmes, they’re working on those in terms of the fitness and the S&C work they can do. Then, there’s a mix of guest speakers, tactical awareness, cooking challenges – trying to keep the group connected, more than anything else.’
It certainly means that there is no shortage of preparation time.
‘This probably falls into my swim-lane,’ Crowley says, ‘but you’ve a bit more time to do opposition analysis and prepare that side of things, which is more time than we’ve ever had before.
‘A lot of it is trying to say, “Look, we’ll get the same amount of time that we did the last time,” and then making sure that the players are ready when that call comes.
‘Those plans are already in place, so as soon as the time is defined, then the relative plan can be set, so to speak.’
The GAA had planned for the 2021 underage competitions to begin in March but such ambitions may be hampered. It’s important that those players are not forgotten, either.
‘What Galway have done is put them into almost like a development squad,’ Crowley says, ‘to get them on individual programmes so that when the 2020 campaign is done, they’re ready to step in.
‘What’s lucky for Jeffrey and the Galway U20s is that they know all of those players from the last few years. It’ll be the 2018 All-Ireland minor-winning team will be forming the backbone of that, so you know what you’re working with.
‘Still, the games are where you really want to see where lads are at. It’s impossible to say for definite, but it’s only definite, especially at that age, 17-20, where they’re developing a lot.’
However, Crowley doesn’t think that the lack of on-field activity will stymie tactical development and evolution.
‘In fact, you could almost argue the opposite,’ he says.
‘There are coaches out there, and I know dozens of them, that are seriously hungry for more knowledge, more insight and are using this time to upskill themselves with courses, webinars, books, opposition analysis, looking at trends in how teams are playing.
‘I think there’ll be coaches going back with copybooks full of new activities and tactics for their teams.’