IN one way, it was an inconsequential challenge match but in another it will live in the memory as it marked the first weekend with Gaelic games since March.
On Saturday night, Kilbrittain overcame neighbours Argideen Rangers as both sides upped preparations for forthcoming championship games – Kilbrittain against another West Cork team, Barryroe, in the lower intermediate hurling and Argideen against Dungourney in the intermediate A.
The scoreline – 1-6 to 0-6 for the hosts – was not what you’d expect from July hurling but then neither was the weather. After generally favourable conditions during the lockdown, here there was a tempest blowing from the north across the open hillside venue. Darragh O’Donovan had the opening score for the Timoleague visitors inside 25 seconds but, with the wind in the first half, Kilbrittain established a 0-5 to 0-1 half-time advantage and Mark Hickey’s goal on the resumption gave them a cushion.
Of course, as well as the conventional sporting aspect, there was the fact that Covid-19 guidelines had to be followed. Like gladiators, the teams entered the arena from opposite sides – but the gladiators didn’t have to drive to their encounters already togged off.
The dressing rooms were open, but only to serve as a store-room for the pop-up café just outside. All social-distancing measures were followed, though the wind and rain certainly hampered business.
Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile exercise for both teams and Kilbrittain manager Jamie Wall felt that the performance could be filed away for future use.
“What you could read into it is that it’s July now and we have this weather so there’s every chance that we’ll have to go out and play a championship game in this,” he said.
“It was a great lesson for our lads to play in these conditions. Funnily enough, our last game before the lockdown was against Sarsfields’ second team in similar conditions and they showed us how to play in that kind of weather.
“It was a long time coming to see if we could apply those lessons but I thought the lads really did. You could see that they were trying to do the right things. There was an awful lot of ring-rust on both sides as well but we were very happy with the intent from the lads.
“On a night like tonight, that was the biggest positive that you were hoping to take.”
There is a pre-season feel right now but normally pre-season is months rather than weeks ahead of championship. Wall doesn’t feel that that’s a bad thing, though.
“It’s a challenge in itself but a part of me thinks it’s a way better,” he said.
“Lads would be sick of waiting around for games sometimes. Now, it’s a case of having a very definite focus, it’s there and you go and act on it.
“Maybe I’m just being overly positive because we’re all just delighted that we’re getting anything at all. A lot of people, myself included, thought that we’d have to write this year off so it’s bonus-territory for everybody in that sense.
“I think a big positive of the short lead-in is that there’s no time for bullshit. You have to get your house in order and play games and do all of the things that players want to do.
“That side of it is a massive positive. I’ve been talking to fellas involved in the Fitzgibbon with me who are with teams in Tipperary and we were saying that we’re well-used to the four-week lead-in!
“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.”
Similarly, Argideen manager Barry Harte was pleased despite the loss.
“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.”