NEMO Rangers manager Paul O’Donovan finds himself in the unique role of preparing a team for its first game of a new season which happens to be a county final.
That’s the 2020 Bon Secours county premier senior championship decider against Castlehaven which has now been pushed back to mid-summer because of Covid-19.
And mapping out a training programme is further clouded by Level 5 restrictions, which ban collective gatherings, adding to the overall uncertainty.
“The inter-county season is going back a little and I don’t know how the club season is going to be managed,” he told the Echo.
“I don’t think we will be able to get together now until March. We did a bit in December when restrictions were lifted and were able to avail of non-contact training for about four weeks.
“We’ve had to break up again since, but we’ve given the lads their training programmes and we trust them to do it.
“Hopefully, we’ll come back in some reasonable shape, but we’re going to be way off match fitness initially and we’ll build that up.
“Our players are very committed and all we ask is just keep tipping away.
“In fairness, they’ve a great appetite for it and are great are challenging each other,” O’Donovan commented.
Even though the final is still six months away there are some certainties surrounding it, especially its proximity to the 2021 championship.
“One of the strange things about it is that you’re going to be out again two weeks later for the start of another championship.
“I think that is likely to be one of the most difficult things to handle because whether you win or lose you’re still have to come back to ground level and go again.
“I reckon it would be very difficult to stay up there by winning and then going through another campaign. I think for both ourselves and Castlehaven, that’s going to be a huge challenge.”
A summer final is also rare, the prospect of warm weather, a hard pitch and dry ball instead of the customary winter offerings.
“Last year we had one game with supporters, but the others were played behind closed doors without supporters.
“It’s strange because you can hear everything that’s said, everything that’s said on the sidelines and I thought water-breaks brought another challenge, too.
“I’d imagine that’s something that will be carried on this year and I can’t see it changing now because that’s the way the season started and they’ll have to see it through now.”
The number of league games is being halved and O’Donovan reckons it will be based on geography which would give Nemo quality games against the likes of St Finbarr’s, Ballincollig, St Michael’s, Mallow and Cill na Martra.
“Ideally, I’d love to have six weeks between the end of the inter-county season and the final, but I don’t think we’ll get that.
“The fact that our goalkeeper, Micheál Aodh Martin, is with Cork impacts as well because there’s such an emphasis on restarts and starting off attacks from your goalkeeper.
“From that point of view we could be at a disadvantage, but it’s the same for Castlehaven because of their county players. In some ways, it’s the same as any other year in you try and get games before the first round of the championship.
“Ok, it’s a bit different this year because you’re first game of 2021 is a county final and there’s a lot hanging on it.
“There’s no looking ahead to round two of the championship or anything like that. As long as we get enough time to prepare and play our league and challenge matches I don’t think we can have any complaints.
“I just hope both sides are in a position to put out their full-strength teams and that Covid won’t have an impact.
“We still have the same management with Harry Cripps, Willie Morgan, Ger Keely, who is also the goalkeeping coach, and James Master and Gearoid O’Shea who came on board at the start of 2020. Cian Sisk is our S&C coach.”