GAA lockdown gives Cork footballers a chance to recover for later in the season

GAA lockdown gives Cork footballers a chance to recover for later in the season
Ruairí Deane of Cork in action against Jordan Hayes of Offaly. He's currently recovering from injury. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

IF ever it was a good time for an inter-county footballer to get injured now seems the perfect time.

With the arrival of Covid-19 it would appear that the remaining rounds of the league and the knockout stages of that competition are definitely gone by the wayside.

The four finals were expected to be played off at the end of this month or in early April, but there is no chance of these fixtures being fulfilled now with the Coronavirus outbreak.

In all likelihood, this virus is going to be with us for three months or more, so the provincial championships, and beyond, are in jeopardy too.

Of course, sport has had to take a back seat right now. We all snigger at the famous Bill Shankly quote about football being much more important than life or death, but obviously the quote works because of its sheer absurdity.

Sport is one of life’s great passions and interests, for many, but it pales into insignificance when lives are at stake, which is currently the case throughout the country and beyond.

In saying that, the day when we find ourselves watching live sport again is going to be a great one.

It will be a barometer that normality, or at least some semblance of it, has returned. So, while sport is rightly parked for now, it is something that the country will need once this crisis has been averted.

At the moment we do not know the extent to which the All-Ireland senior football championship is going to be affected by Covid-19.

There is a realistic possibility that the tournament might not happen at all, and if so, so be it.

However, , if the virus can be controlled in the next three or four months then some version of the competition can be played off, even if that is a reduced straight knockout competition like the good old days before backdoors, qualifiers and Super 8s were ever heard of.

And while all this uncertainty is hardly ideal for any inter-county team to be in a position to prepare to the best of their ability, it could actually be a blessing in disguise for the Cork footballers right now.

Only hours before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the big national lockdown last Thursday, the story broke that key Cork wing-forward Ruairí Deane was set to miss the entire Munster Championship due to a hamstring injury.

The injury had occurred in a training session in the lead-up to the recent league game against Derry, and the Bantry Blues man had since travelled to London to have surgery with the same surgeon that had helped Deane’s teammate Brian Hurley recover from horrific hamstring injuries in recent years.

The word is that Deane is targeting a July return.

We obviously do not know if Cork will be involved in any championship action around then, at this juncture, but there is a good chance that Deane may actually be back, fit and ready, if Cork get to play any championship football in 2020.

Deane has become a key player and leader for Cork in their revival in the past 12 months, and would be a huge loss for Cork manager Ronan McCarthy should he be missing for a considerable length of time.

Éire Óg’s Colm O’Callaghan would appear to be the most obvious fit in terms of a replacement if it came to that, but it would be extremely difficult to replace a championship battle-hardened operator like Deane, in what is a very young side at the moment.

While Cork have a large amount of talented youngsters coming through at the moment, such as the All-Ireland U20 contingent from last August, they are still extremely reliant on experienced operators like Deane, Ian Maguire and Mark Collins to provide leadership.

Of course, Deane is not the only walking wounded player in the Cork set up right now.

Cork's Kevin Flahive and Padraig De Brun of Limerick. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Cork's Kevin Flahive and Padraig De Brun of Limerick. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Key defenders such as Kevin Crowley and Kevin Flahive are currently injured, and this break in competitive action also gives them a chance to get themselves healthy by the time Cork see championship action.

You would think that if Cork were going to go deep in the championship then they would need all their main defenders ready and available for the big showdowns against the likes of Kerry.

The nationwide blanket ban on GAA training makes team preparation incredible difficult at present. Cork were on a roll in Division 3 of the league, winning all four games to date, and were very close to securing promotion back to Division 2 before this lockdown came into effect.

Ronan McCarthy used 36 players in these four games, with a perfect mixture of experienced, old heads and raw, young talent being deployed.

Cork really need to get back to playing in the top divisions though in order to expose these players to the highest levels of football in the country.

In that respect it would be a shame if the league were to be knocked on its head for the year, as if this were to happen then Cork might find themselves beginning the 2021 campaign still rooted in the third tier of the league.

This might have implications to Cork’s participation, or not, in the 2021 Super 8s, but there is no real point in worrying about that just now given the travails the country and the entire globe finds itself in.

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