CORK hurler Chris O’Leary has welcomed the clarity provided by the GAA’s clamp-down on county team training prior to the permitted return date of September 14.
With club championships beginning next week, county sides were not allowed to gather for collective training until September but, in the wake of strong anecdotal evidence of this being ignored, the GAA has taken firm action on the matter.
Valley Rovers clubman O’Leary is pleased that there will be a level playing field when the inter-county campaign starts. “At least we have clarity on it now that we’re all going to be on the same page,” he said.
“We’re all going to be going back training at the same time so it’s a fair decision. We’ll all be trying to impress with our clubs and looking to put in good performances so that we can try to get into the team.
“Once we’re playing games, we’re always happy. The club championship games might benefit some players because, firstly, you’ll be able to show management that you’re good enough to get into the starting team or the squad. Then, your fitness will be up from the club championship too so, once we go back training with Cork, we should be flying fit.”
O’Leary was speaking at the launch of the Hurl Safe visor at his club’s grounds in Brinny. With action just around the corner, he’s glad that the long period of inaction has come to an end.
“We’re delighted, after the long lay-off, just to be back on the field,” he said.
“It has been a big relief for all of us and having a couple of fixtures coming up now on the horizon is a massive boost.
“We’re really looking forward to it and it’s great to see the numbers back on the field for club training. We had 40 or 50 on the field last week and hopefully now we can keep the numbers up.
“It was tough at the start. With the uncertainty of it all, we didn’t know how long it was going to last but we just kept tipping away on our own.
“We’re doing a good bit of running out on the roads as well, it was just a case of maintaining your fitness for when you were going back, whenever that was going to be. We didn’t have a clue if it was going to be a month or three months.
“We were in our run-up to championship, we had 10 weeks to go and then it was all just cut.
“It was frustrating alright but all we could do was keep training away and maintaining our own fitness until they told us we could go back training fully.”
To break the monotony, the Cork hurling panel undertook a skills fundraiser for Marymount Hospice, generating more than €50,000.
“We were just keeping in contact in group chats and that but the fundraiser really brought us all together,” O’Leary said.
“It felt like a bit of a break from the lockdown and it was a good thing to be able to do.”
Having won Munster medals with Cork in 2017 and 2018, O’Leary wasn’t on the panel in 2019 but earned a recall from Kieran Kingston thanks to strong Fitzgibbon Cup performances with UCC. Having almost become a victim of his own versatility, he feels he is benefiting from being sited more regularly in the half-back line.
“Over the last few years, I would have played all over the place and I was in the forwards with the club,” he said, “but I was happy enough to stay in the half-back line with Cork and try to hold down a position there.
“It makes it easier when you’re just focusing on one position, you’re not thinking about what you’d have to be doing elsewhere. I was definitely happier in that regard this year alright.
“I got a run in the Munster league games, so I think game-time definitely helped me and a full pre-season with no injuries was a massive boost.
“It was good to get a few runs in the league then as well.”
Before the Cork action, though, there is plenty with Valleys to keep him focused. They begin their premier senior football campaign with a clash with Nemo Rangers – who beat them last year – and then a local derby senior A hurling meeting with Ballinhassig.
“We lost to Nemo last year but we have to try to put that behind us when we play them this year,” he said.
“We have to show much we have improved, I think we have done so. Hopefully we can keep training hard in the next few weeks and put it up to them. Games between ourselves and Ballinhassig are always close and I’d expect the same this time.”
The fact that Valleys are a strong dual club means a heavy workload but he’s looking forward to it.
“It’ll be a bit different having games every weekend,” he says.
“It’s hard to balance both but it’s something we’ve had to do over the last few years and I think we’re quite used to it in that regard.
“Hopefully it won’t affect us too much if we recover well between games.”
It’s also a time of change for O’Leary off the pitch as he has joined An Garda Síochána, with the Covid-19 situation dictating the method of education.
“I started with three weeks online, which I’m just finishing,” he said, “and I’ll be going up to Templemore then. After that, I’ll have 12 weeks in a station and 16 weeks in Templemore again to finish it off.
“It’s all a bit new, to be fair. The training online is good, we’re learning about all of the legislation and the week in Templemore will give us a better understanding of what it’s like.
“When we’re out in the stations, that’ll show us what it’s really like.”