'The social side of the GAA is something people didn't realise they'd miss'

'The social side of the GAA is something people didn't realise they'd miss'
Jamie Wall: The social side of the GAA shouldn't be underestimated. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

SOCIAL distancing might feel like a major constraint, but Jamie Wall is determined to take the positives from the coronavirus lockdown.

If right was right, Wall would be preparing the Kilbrittain intermediate hurling team for a championship opener with neighbours, Barryroe, but, instead, he, like everyone else, is enduring an unplanned period on the metaphorical sideline.

In 2014, Wall was forced to give up a promising GAA career, due to a freak infection, and he is now in a wheelchair. The memories of those days provide him with perspective, though, and he feels that the enforced downtime will give others time to think, too.

“This isn’t my first rodeo, shall we say,” Wall says. “I spent the best part of eight months in a hospital bed, confined to a much smaller space than what I’m limited to at the moment.

“I’m managing, in fairness, and I’m kept busy with college, so it’s grand, but it does remind me of the spell between getting out of hospital and before getting back involved in sport,” Wall says.

“The social side of that is something people don’t realise that they miss and, I think, if and when we come out on the right side of this whole thing, it could be a great thing for people, in that it would give a sense of perspective as to why they do it, players and management.

“It might make people sit back and take stock and think, ‘Why am I involved in this?’ Is it winning at all costs, for certain managers? Is it players only staying involved because they feel they have to?

"Even in the last couple of months, something I’ve noticed at club level, we’ve had young guys come back into the fold and they’ve said they really missed the social aspect of it,” Wall says.

“When you strip it all back, that is a huge part of it, but it’s probably the first thing you lose sight of. It’s something that we’ll all understand together now.

“Sport gives you a great outlet and it helps to keep a community together. When life and work are hectic, it might be that the only break you get is the hour and a half of training. What it has taught me, as a coach, is that it should be the good part of the day,” Wall says.

Kilbrittain's Jamie Wall. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE
Kilbrittain's Jamie Wall. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

As a coach or a manager, there is a powerlessness in being unable to work with players, but adaptability is an important and necessary skill.

“It’s something that we’re having to evolve with,” Wall says. “When the first restrictions were applied, we had sessions that lads could do on their own or in smaller groups, while maintaining all of the correct social distancing.

“Then, there was a further announcement, saying you shouldn’t be going in any sort of groups, so we had to tell lads to go on their own. Obviously, all of the pitches are closed and the gates are locked, so lads are doing what they can to stay in a bit of shape,” Wall says.

“Some of the running plans that Mikey Kearney gave the lads can’t be done by everyone, because they wouldn’t have the space at home. A lot of guys are making use of the natural terrain, we’ll say, around Kilbrittain. They’re getting runs in on a loop, within 2km of their houses,” he says.

“They’re just trying to stay fit. I think everybody knows that, when we get back to the pitch, more specific stuff will have to be done. It’s just a case of keeping yourself in as good a shape as possible, so that the first two or three weeks aren’t as awful as they could be,” Wall says.

“I’m always trying to find the positive in stuff and, if nothing else, this is making lads realise that, aside from winning games and championships, you should be trying to keep yourself fit throughout the year, for your own benefit.

“People are realising that in a lot of places, so there could be a lot of positive life lessons out of this whole thing and that can’t be bad,” Wall says.

For the past four years, Wall has managed the Mary Immaculate College Fitzgibbon Cup team, winning it in 2017 and reaching the final last year. In addition, he was coach to Limerick senior club Kilmallock in 2019, and also guided the Cork U16s to victory in their national competition.

However, nothing will interfere with the management of his home club.

“That’s all it will be,” Wall says. “It could be my only involvement and there’ll be no season! It was just that, coming home to the club here was always, only ever going to be something I would do on its own. 

"I was never going to make two halves of myself with the job here. It’s not that any job is more or less important, but I saw, over the last two years with Kilmallock, at senior level, that being involved with a club team is very much all-encompassing.

Jamie Wall has been involved with Mary I, Kilmallock and Cork underage teams. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Jamie Wall has been involved with Mary I, Kilmallock and Cork underage teams. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

“It’s a full season, but in normal circumstances it’s a messed-up season, because you’re trying to get ready for two championships, though our April is gone now,” Wall says.

“You’re probably dealing with a wider array of personalities with a club, too. Not that everyone’s the same at inter-county, but at that level you tend to have a lot more like-minded guys. At club level, you’ve a wider age-range — you have guys who are 18 and guys who are 38 — whereas, at inter-county, it’s generally between 20 and 28,” Wall says.

“One thing that I learned from John Brudair, in Kilmallock, is that, with a club team, it’s not something that you can do properly if you’re spreading yourself thinly. You don’t want to do any club half-right, but when it comes to your own, you don’t compromise that in any way, shape, or form.”

During his playing days, Kilbrittain reached a county semi-final. Picture: Richard Mills
During his playing days, Kilbrittain reached a county semi-final. Picture: Richard Mills

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