WHILE an All-Ireland final looms on the horizon for Cork U20 hurlers when GAA games resume, manager Pat Ryan acknowledges that the team cannot be rushed back into high-intensity action.
Having won the Munster title with victory over Tipperary on December 23, Cork had been expecting to play the All-Ireland on January 11, but the indefinite postponement of Gaelic games has meant that the Rebels, like many others, remain in limbo.
Ryan is hopeful that the green light will soon be given for a return to training, but even when that happens, it will be a case of easing the squad back.
“If we do go back in the first week in April, our lads will have done no contact training since December 20,” he says.
“That’s a good three and a half months, so you have to be careful that, when we do go back, you’re not asking them to do too much, too soon.
Sprinting and stopping and starting, taking belts and changing direction — it’s a way bigger load on your body.
“We’ve a very good strength and conditioning coach in Adam McCarthy, and Aidan O’Connell is in charge of high-performance, so they’ll give us the best advice.
“Initially, it’ll be about getting fellas back on the field and getting their touch going, getting them used to being back on the pitch and doing a bit more work.
“It’s about gradually increasing the pressure on their bodies with drills and the like, because I don’t think you could go back into full-contact sessions straightaway. It’ll be a case of easing fellas back, otherwise we’ll end up with a load of injuries.”
Cork are helped by the fact that Dublin and Galway must meet in the Leinster final to determine their All-Ireland opponents.
While that is an advantage of sorts, it will mean going in cold against a side with a game under their belts.
“You could look at it in a couple of ways,” Ryan says.
“At the end of the day, we’re in the final and that’s a great way to be because you have a trophy behind you.
“Against that, whoever comes through on the other side will have a game played and that will give them a bit of an advantage to a degree.
“With all of these things, whether you win, lose, or draw afterwards, you can cite various things as advantages or disadvantages.
I don’t think there are excuses for anyone — at the end of the day, we’ll have plenty of time to get prepared.
“One thing about Covid is that everybody was treated the same and from our situation it’s about preparing our lads as best we can.”
For now, that means remote meetings, but Ryan is keen to ensure that there is no overload.
“We’ve a lot of strength and conditioning programmes given out and fellas are working away off that,” he says.
“We’ve been doing a few Zoom calls, but we actually gave them 12 days off and only went back on Monday. In fairness to the majority of our fellas, we’d have four or five doing the Leaving Cert so they’re back at school and the rest of them are on Zoom calls constantly, so we were trying to keep them to a minimum, as best we could.
“The lads were broken up into groups between different coaches and selectors — rather than person trying to contact 35 players, we have them in groups of seven or so and management trying to help them along in those ways.
“In fairness, fellas are very good to train and do their own stuff so we’re conscious that we don’t over-task them.
“Like everyone, we’re hopeful that we might be back in April so over the next four weeks we’re looking to get them up and into action so that, if it does happen that we’re back, they’re able to hit the ground running.
“Fellas have been very good with their training and it has been very tough, especially for those who did the Leaving last year and are in their first year in college or working.
“In fairness, they seem to have handled it well — they have lost out on a lot from a social side of things, so you have to be conscious of that too.”