NEW Cork minor football manager, Michael O’Brien from Ballincollig, has to play the waiting game ahead of the 2021 season.
The only certainty is that the campaign starts in March and finishes in May, but given the prevailing circumstances even that can’t be guaranteed.
Considering last year’s competition still has to be completed it’s quite a conundrum facing organisers in these precarious times.
Officially, Cork are still the All-Ireland champions from 2019 despite losing to Kerry in last season’s shortened Munster championship.
They now meet Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final, but Leinster and Ulster have yet to finish their championships.
Meath meet Offaly in one final, but Ulster is only at the semi-final stage, so there’s a bit to go yet before getting the 2021 edition underway.
O’Brien was manager of the Ballincollig side, which created history by winning the county senior football championship for the first time in 2014.
“More recently I was involved with development squads for two years at U14 and U15 which would now be the current U16s,” said O’Brien, who has a two-year term.
Former Cork star and All-Ireland 2010 winner Donncha O’Connor has been passing on his knowledge to various development squads, as well, is also on board as a selector.
“The other selectors are Martin O’Brien, who is now with Clonakilty. He’s been involved with the current U17s along the way.
“Daniel Cronin from St Mary’s was involved with the mid and west regions while Gary Sheehan, originally with Na Piarsaigh and now with Carrigtwohill, was involved with the city and north team.
“Briain Morgan from Nemo Rangers is our goalkeeper and kick-out strategy coach and Brian McCarthy heads up our logistics team, having been in that role last year, too.”
Compiling a squad is hazardous enough in normal times, but the absence of colleges matches, club games and even collective training adds to the degree of difficulty.
“We have a provisional training squad of 43 for strength and conditioning and as soon as we can get onto a pitch again we’ll be holding trials.
“We’ve a large number of players we want to see playing before finalising the panel and that’s the big thing at the moment. A lot depends on when we get clearance to train together and the date of the first match, so it’s up in the air as we speak.
“We’d be hoping by mid-February that we will be able to get back on the pitch, knowing that the timeline is very tight.
“At the moment the championship is set to start on March 20 and finish by May 23 which gives us 11 weeks.
“Obviously with Covid it’s out of our hands and as things stand we don’t know the format yet. We’re hoping there will be a back door round.”
The 2020 season was a virtual wipeout for the U16 development squads with just two full months, January and February, available for training and strength and conditioning.
“There was a lot going on, but once Covid hit at the start of March we only had webinars and strength and conditioning courses online.
“The club championships eventually came back and the lads were involved with their clubs at U16 and minor.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to be a challenge, but we simply have to go with what is in front of us and do our utmost to have the best players in the county on the panel as quickly as we possibly can.
“The only thing is that every other county is in the same position of having a small window to prepare.”
Recent seasons can’t be used as a guide either because Cork changed their system from one team playing at U14 and U15 to splitting into four regions and playing challenge matches against other counties.
“There’s a huge spread of players from different clubs from west Cork to north Cork with a strong city base, too.
“We’re looking forward to the season and hopefully the players will get their chance to play,” O’Brien concluded.