LIKE the rest of us, Cork City attacker Daire O’Connor has found these past few months strange on every level.
While the restrictions in place due to Covid-19 are starting to ease from today, there is still no definite date for a League Of Ireland return. The FAI is hoping soccer across the board will return by late August and there is a tournament for the four European qualified teams in June, but other teams including City must stay on hold.
For the past number of months at this stage, O’Connor, along with the rest of the Cork City first team squad, are currently keeping themselves ticking over on fitness programmes put in place largely by the assistant manager Joe Gamble.
“We have to treat it like an off season really.
“You have to keep ticking over away on your own,” describes O’Connor on life as a League of Ireland footballer during this current lockdown.
“We have all been given programmes to work on. Normally in the off season you would have access to the gym.
“It is a very makeshift scenario now and we are using everything we can, from weights at home to the stairs.
“It is a very much one for all scenario we find ourselves in. Everyone is going to be doing something very different because we all have different facilities at home.
“The hardest part is that we spent six weeks in pre-season to get as fit as we could. Personally it was my best ever pre-season.
“Five games into the season and I felt flying fit. But now we are going to have to start again.”
The former UCD man, who earned Premier Division promotion for the Students in 2018, has been at Cork City throughout the Neale Fenn era, as the 2005 Premier Division title winner sets to put his own stamp and style of play into place.
“We spent a good pre-season nailing down a certain style,” describes O’Connor. “Has it come to full fruition for us on the pitch as of yet, I don’t think it has for various reasons.
“The first game of the season is always going to be frantic and you are never going to see much patterns of play there.
“Then all of a sudden you are playing the two best teams in the country, which they are always going to be dominating the ball.
“After three games in, our backs were against the wall and we had to grind out a result against Finn Harps no matter what way it was.
“We did alright in the second half against St Pat’s. I know it is a cliché, but things were coming together.
“I think once the first round of games were over, if we were still in a decent position, which we were hoping to be, we felt we could start bossing games a bit more and scoring goals more and being fluid in attack.
“But it has been pulled from us now and we will have to go back to the drawing board.”
Although it may seem like almost a lifetime ago at this stage, the most recent home game for Cork City at Turner’s Cross was a 1-0 victory over Finn Harps on February 28.
Recalling that night, O’Connor feels it gave this young City squad a sample of what playing in front of a passionate crowd on Leeside can be like.
“Even though I felt I have had better individual games myself, that was the best atmosphere and feeling that I had in a Cork City jersey in the year and a bit that I have been there.
“Performance wise it was probably average.
“We scraped by with a goal. But I think given the weather conditions and the position that we were in and the panic among the fans, to get the win over the line the whole place just erupted once the final whistle went.
“It was my best feeling in a Cork City jersey and it gave us a taster of how big the club is and how passionate the fans are, especially for the lads coming from England.
“That was the main factor in me coming to Cork City. The sheer magnitude and size of the club is there for everyone to see when things are going well.
“Even when things weren’t going well last year, we were still getting over 2,000-2,500 people at our home games, when you could argue there was nothing on the line at the end of last season.
“There is a massive core group of fans there that will back you to the hilt. The vibe we were getting is that the fans were going to back us more than ever this year because they knew we were young, a new group with a point to prove and they did.
“There were good home crowds against Shels and Harps. The City fans are second to none and we just feel guilty that we didn’t show them what they wanted to see last year.
“So this year, the players that were left have a point to prove and once the season comes back, I think that is what we have to start aiming for again.”
While it remains very much uncertain as to when the action will resume, O’Connor is gratefully looking forward to the day when he can wear the Cork City jersey on the field of play again.
He will hope to play his part in a City revival and moving the club back towards the upper echelons of the Premier Division table.