HE had been hoping to get back playing in the League of Ireland, but with just one game under his belt in the Munster Senior League, he hadn’t expected his return to be so soon.
Paul Hunt had enjoyed a great career in the League of Ireland for 10 years, but, for personal reasons, the goalkeeper, from Knocknaheeney, left his former club Cobh Ramblers last season to take up a position with MSL side Leeside.
He played just one game before the pandemic and although he enjoyed his time with the Little Island club, he always intended to return to LOI level, just not so soon.
Having recently signed for Colin Healy’s Cork City side, the 30-year-old is thrilled to be back at that level and the news that he will face his old club, Cobh Ramblers, in the first game, adds to the excitement.
“When I went to play with Leeside, I continued to say, if the right opportunity came along for a return to the LOI, I would jump at the chance and, thankfully for me, that came around quicker then expected, with Cork City, and I’m loving it at the moment,” says Hunt.
The father of one began his LOI career with St Pat’s, at the age of 19, before moving to Longford, where he won the First Division and enjoyed a year playing in the Premier Division.
From there, he moved to Cobh, where he spent six great years.
With them, he won a First Division title and medals in the Setanta Cup, EA Sports Cup, the Leinster Senior Cup, and the Munster Senior Cup, which he is very proud of.
I had some great years with Cobh.
“My decision to leave Cobh was a personal one. I knew it was time for me to step away from the club, but it was not an easy decision to make, as I loved my time there, but knew it was the best decision for me to leave.
“I gave everything for the club, while I was there, and I can honestly say I have no regrets on the decision I made and it’s one I believe most people who were in my situation would have made.
“I always made sure, with every club I was with, I developed as a player and a person and gained as much experience as I could. I have gained a lot of experience from so many different people throughout my career,” Hunt says.
“The managers I played under — Pete Mahon, Tony Cousins, Stephen Henderson, and Stuart Ashton — they were all good and helped my career in some way or the other.
“I was also lucky enough to play with some great players, from schoolboy football to all the League of Ireland teams.
“The likes of Matt Doherty, Stephen Rice, Davy Sullivan, Dave Hurley, and more that I could go on all night about.
“I’ve been very lucky, in that sense, to have played with a lot of great players and I now look forward to adding to those lists.”
Hunt’s decision to leave Cobh wasn’t easy, considering he believed he still had so much to offer, and now Hunt has been given another chance and he is looking forward to the season ahead.
“My hopes for the season are quite simple, really. I want to get more medals and trophies in the drawer, but all while enjoying it, at the same time.
“My hope is to help the team gain promotion and get the club back up to the top division as quickly as possible.
“My focus is no different than any other year: I just can’t wait for the games to get going, the buzz of that match day, and the days leading up to it; you can’t beat that feeling, as a player.
“It’s unfortunate if it’s behind closed doors, for both players and fans, especially our first game against Cobh Ramblers, with it being a derby, but, unfortunately, they’re the times we have, at the moment, but, hopefully, not for too much longer,” Hunt says.
Pre-season has been enjoyable and Hunt is confident that the squad assembled by Healy is talented and hard-working.
Training, so far, has been excellent; the whole set-up is very professional, from the smallest of details.
“Training has been tough, but enjoyable, which is all you can ask for from anyone.
“There’s quite a few young players in the squad, but also plenty of experienced players that have been around the league a few years, players that know what it takes to win tough games, where you need to dig in but can also light up a game at any stage.
“It’s important that the experienced players are the ones making sure the standards are kept high at the club, from training to gym work, what we’re eating away from training, and that will filter into game day.
“The competition for the number-one spot is good. We all know only one can play between the posts on game day and that’s up to the manager. We are there to support each other and improve and push each other every day we train.
“The league is going to be very tough this year, the same as any other year.
“I expect eight or nine teams in the league that believe they can win it, so every game is going to be a fight and no team will just hand anyone the points.
“I’m really looking forward to the season ahead."