As the league drags to a conclusion, is it any wonder club players in Cork are getting fed up?

As the league drags to a conclusion, is it any wonder club players in Cork are getting fed up?
James Fitzpatrick, Carbery Rangers, looking to tackle his opposite number Denis Murphy, Clonakilty, back in April. Picture: Dan Linehan

THE year drifts slowly towards its end. 

This weekend Clonakilty play Carbery Rangers in the semi-final of the Kelleher Shield and it’s awfully hard to look at that fixture and not think about this undertaking by the GAA to provide a proper season for players now and wonder if it can come soon enough. If we’re to use these two as case studies to start, both played their first league games on the weekend of February 11-12 and that initial rush to run games off in the first month is more than a little misleading on the difference between providing regular games and providing meaningful games. 

This spring Clon played five league games by the first weekend in April, on heavy pitches with players missing at college and playing U21 and intercounty. Last year Ross played seven league games before their first round of championship, but again, much of the time with shadow teams. And still, mid-November before we get to finish the thing off, which can’t be a league that serves its purpose.

Ask the coaches about the structure of a full season right now at senior club level and it’s pretty dispiriting. Clon’s 2017 began with Paul Holland getting together with Paudie Kissane and the squad to perform and analyse pre-season fitness tests in order to develop strength and conditioning programmes for the players to follow in small groups; that was the first weekend of November last year, as in over 12 months ago. Collective training began once a week in January as a base level of fitness was needed for the start of the league. The rush of five games in six weeks to start the league and then three more league games over the next seven months. 

Three championship games spread between the last weekend of April, mid-June, and mid-October for a relegation game with Skibb. That’s Clon training more or less non-stop for a year for 11 competitive games. 

This weekend last year Ross lost to the Nire in Munster so didn’t come back training until January 11. Maurice Moore could count 95 training sessions in addition to nine league games, four championship games and maybe three challenge matches organised. Those numbers simply don’t add up to a coherent schedule of games designed to help teams and players develop over a summer, which is surely the point of all this.

For Paul Holland, it’s been the little details that have disrupted preparations and availability of players. Random fixturing of defining games for instance. Clon played CIT on a Monday of a bank holiday last year, two days after three of his players were togged out with Cork at Croke Park – one got injured, the other two were struggling for legs by half-time. This season they lost Tom Clancy to injury at Cork training just before the Muskerry game, a game squeezed into a date unnecessarily to suit divisional needs elsewhere. 

Muskerry's Conor Cotter battles with Clonakilty's Sean White. Picture: David Keane.
Muskerry's Conor Cotter battles with Clonakilty's Sean White. Picture: David Keane.

He reckons he’s had Sean White and Tom Clancy on the field together for one 30-minute spell all year (a league game in September), David Lowney has been back and forth with Cork hurling teams and for all expectation to deliver a performance for that hour in championship, Holland can’t see how the current schedule helps a club to properly build and develop a team over the course of a year to achieve that. 

For Maurice Moore, it’s that inability to work up any kind of rhythm into their play due to lack of consistent games. Ross played championship in April, June and two in a week at the end of September and that just doesn’t lend itself to finding a level of form and improving it over the course of a run of games. Moore references the Premier league where teams often take seven or eight games early in the year before hitting proper sharpness and form and can then improve noticeably over a season. 

Instead, the benefit of a game in April is lost by June and he could see that lack of matches manifesting when they blitzed Haven for 20 minutes and then completely fell away. The intensity of performance drops as it’s almost impossible to maintain through training alone over a long spell. 

The Ross coach would make the big-picture point that Cork football suffers as players never get that chance to develop ball skills in the environment required, that forwards especially are being lost to lack of games where they need to challenge themselves at that elite performance level. Freshness and motivation is a problem. 

Carbery Rangers' Chris O'Donovan bursting past Douglas' Kevin Hayes-Curtin during the Cork SFC at Clonakilty in the summer. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Carbery Rangers' Chris O'Donovan bursting past Douglas' Kevin Hayes-Curtin during the Cork SFC at Clonakilty in the summer. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Clon lost four or five players off the squad during the hard slog of summer training without an obvious upcoming game, just through sheer lack of interest in the end. Moore thinks his group had maybe three weeks off all year as they simply didn’t know when they were able to wind down a bit with preparations and he knows the lifestyle demanded of a club player now just isn’t as desirable anymore.

The challenge now is to do something about it finally. Both coaches see good in a league that can provide meaningful games at a decent time of the season, which rules out early February, the deadline rush of October when lots of teams have other commitments and you know, mid-November when most everyone just wants the year over. Both mention divisions and colleges as an issue to be solved. 

Both refer to a lack of joined-up schedule thinking as a whole that isn’t helping at any level. For example, Moore speaks about the clash with schools and club minor team preparations currently which appears completely avoidable and just doesn’t allow players at that age to properly flourish. If we’re listing the items the two coaches have in common by the way, they’re both stepping down at the end of this season too, a little weary honestly of these challenges they have little control over. 

Top of the wishlist though is a set defined season where clubs and management and players can properly plan around definitely having say three championship games in six weeks from the middle of August rather than one game in April and then two more at any stage over the next five months at basically a week’s notice. Serious counties are looking at delaying championships into short sharp bursts after intercounty teams are out. 

Cork need to do something as the current stalemate isn’t working.

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