MSL clubs like Avondale struggle with Covid uncertainty and League of Ireland recruitment

Cork City and Cobh Ramblers have been looking to sign players from the Cork amateur leagues
MSL clubs like Avondale struggle with Covid uncertainty and League of Ireland recruitment

St Mary's Patrick Murphy challenges Avondale's Niall Brennan for the ball in the Beamish Stout Munster Senior League tie last September. Picture: Gavin Browne

WITH two Cork teams now playing in the League of Ireland First Division, how will this affect the top Munster Senior League teams?

Losing players to a higher level is common in club football and although Avondale captain Dave Kiely encourages players to play at the highest level possible, he is still very much annoyed at the possibility of losing some of his teammates to League of Ireland side’s Cork City and Cobh Ramblers.

The 36-year-old defender was excited with the team and squad manager Frank Kelleher had assembled and although he hopes a return sooner rather than later, he doesn’t expect to have the same team they had pre-covid disruptions.

“There are a few of our lads training with Ramblers and City and the latest I have heard is that we will lose a couple which is a shame that this squad won’t have a chance to play together in full,” said Kiely.

“We have adequate strength to cope though. I would never try to hold someone back from playing at a higher level.

"However, it does leave a slightly bitter taste though as City are not as strong as they were financially and now find themselves in the First Division and so they have decided on some of our players, interrupting our plans, which is something they would not normally do if they were operating at full capacity.

“I know other teams are in the same boat.

“Cobh Wanderers recently lost their senior manager Darren Murphy to Cobh Ramblers so again you can see that with the future so unclear at our level, there is very little you can use to persuade people to stay.

“Again some information from the ruling bodies on what future planning is in place would help massively.

“This will also affect older players and I certainly think, from talking to older players from various teams, that we will see some retirements from all of this.

If we had some information regarding the discussions around amateur football it may prevent clubs from losing players and coaches. I think the future of some clubs depends on it.”

Having enjoyed the beginning of last season, Kiely was delighted to have a mixture of youth and experience in the squad and equally, he enjoyed the league been a lot more competitive.

“We were unbeaten, but I think a little bit too much was made of our start to the season really because we were only five games in.

“With only five games in we drew two, so you could hardly say we were setting the world alight. It was actually quite a stressful start to the season.

“We had a lot of injuries and the games we won were closely fought. Probably the most impressive aspect of it was that we collected the points without a fit striker."

Avondale United players Eoghan Lougheed and Dave Kiely and main sponsor, Luke Dennehy, Dennehy's Health and Fitness, welcoming Frank Kelleher on board and wishing him every success into the future. Picture: Mike English
Avondale United players Eoghan Lougheed and Dave Kiely and main sponsor, Luke Dennehy, Dennehy's Health and Fitness, welcoming Frank Kelleher on board and wishing him every success into the future. Picture: Mike English

It’s a much-changed squad and on paper it is very strong, but there was no time before Covid where everyone was fit so this squad is still very much a work in progress.

“It’s great to see the return of some previous players Decky Cahill, Mark Hogan, Kenny Murphy, Simon Falvey, Darragh O’Brien and Dave Shovlin are back and they bring experience and a winning mentality with them.

“Jack Walsh and Eoghan Lougheed have returned from serious injuries and added to that, Stephen Kenny, Dave Stack, Ed Finn, Dave McCarthy, Dean Kelly, Jordan Keegan, Alan Bennett and Dave Dalton and you have a squad with a lot of depth.

“Being strong on paper is one thing but it remains to be seen if this squad can do the business on the pitch.

“It’s impossible to predict the MSL these days and the whole league is clung together. A consistent run will do a lot for a team.

“Rockmount started sluggishly but you would imagine they would improve. Cobh and Midleton are capable of pushing on and you would expect UCC, Ringmahon and Corinthians to be capable of a challenge as well.

“I’ve mentioned almost the whole league there which tells you about the competitive nature of it nowadays.

“Frank has taken the reins this year and we started fairly well but you have to feel sorry for him and his assistant Danny Quinlan, and all management teams this year as it is mission impossible to keep lads motivated.

“We have our weekly zoom sessions and our training plan to follow, but you can’t exactly hammer lads for attendance when we have no idea if and when the season will resume.”

Fairly confident that the MSL will lose some players before returning to action, whether it’s due to retirement or lads getting used to the time off and enjoying it, Kiely hopes that communication can be improved in order for lads to make those decisions.

When not knowing if the season will resume or be scrapped it’s difficult for a lot of people involved in the game.

“If the season can’t resume in April or May, the league could probably be finished.

“Any later, and it’s probably not feasible really, unless the following season starts late, or the structure is switched to summer football to mirror the League of Ireland.

COVID

“Personally, I have probably experienced the best and the worst of this Covid period.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to go into the office every morning and that bit of routine and being able to get out of the house has been a massive plus during all of this.

“On the other hand, apart from the obvious difficulties everyone faces with not being able to see friends and family as often as usual, my mother lives in a nursing home and the lack of contact there has been extremely difficult to handle at times.

“This will pass and I am looking forward to it being a distant memory but I have done a few courses to make the most of the lockdowns and to avoid just wishing the days away.”

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