IT wasn’t the most auspicious of starts on the resumption of the national football leagues at the weekend.
Leitrim’s inability to field a team for the Division 3 game away to Down and forcing them to concede a walk-over reflected the difficulties faced by certain counties.
During the week Fermanagh sought and were refused a postponement of their Division 2 tie away to Clare and only travelled with 18 players.
The Banner’s narrow victory condemned the Ulster county to the drop to the third tier next season, adding to their ire.
The practicalities of teams undertaking long journeys in these most hazardous times became apparent when Kerry travelled by car on Friday for the early afternoon start against Monaghan the following day.
Just as they were starting Louth were completing the first leg of the trip to Cork, arriving in three coaches, two for the players and one for the team’s management and officials.
Dressingrooms remain closed so players gathered on the concourse of level 1 of the south stand at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and headed home immediately after the game.
Louth players grabbed a quick bite to eat before returning to their buses, the food, no doubt, having a bitter taste after their 5-19 to 0-16 hammering.
Finishing with just 12 players probably made it a good idea that management travelled independently!
Cork manager Ronan McCarthy agreed that neutral venues should have been used to complete the four divisions.
“We should probably have gone for them though I can see the problem from Croke Park’s point of view.
“You play a competition where five of the seven games are played home and away, but finish the league at neutral venues for the last two. They were probably open to an appeal if some team fell short by a point for promotion or relegation.
“I suppose if teams had signed up to the effect that they wouldn’t appeal I think it should have been done.
“To me it seemed practical because it would reduce the amount of travelling for teams, but for some reason they couldn’t,” he said.
Leitrim’s walk-over could have had ramifications for Cork if the result hadn’t gone their way with Louth, as remote a possibility and all that seemed even before the throw-in.
It meant Down moved to within a point of the Rebels and could have benefitted but Cork’s domination saw to it that placings remained unaltered.
Cork were crowned champions with a game in hand against Longford on Sunday though in previous seasons they would be contesting a final at Croke Park against the runners-up.
The cases of Leitrim and Cork brought into sharp focus the difference in resources in either county.
“To be fair to the smaller counties like Leitrim and Louth, they don’t have the same pick of players like we have in Cork. Take 12 or 13 players out of a Leitrim set-up then you’re not going to have the sheer numbers that Cork or Dublin have.
“We had 15 very good players not available to us on Saturday and we were still able to put out a very strong team. And you couldn’t call it inexperienced because we had a good mix of experience in the team despite missing a lot of players.
“We’ve taken time to develop the panel and provide strength-in-depth and we still have work to do on it.
“We brought in Daniel O’Mahony from Knocknagree and he has done very well. He has something to add to this group going forward.
“It’s the nature of any elite sport. It’s about competition because if you don’t have that you’re in trouble.”
McCarthy admitted he was unsure how the seven-month lay-off since the previous game against Derry at the same venue would impact his players.
“It was also our first game back and we were going into the unknown because we had a lot of players out.
“And there was a change to pre-match, too, because we met up at 2.30pm after the players ate at home at the usual time of three hours before the start.
“Our thinking was what would we do if we gathered at 1pm because we couldn’t congregate and couldn’t be indoors?
“But, it all worked out fine in the end,” McCarthy concluded.