The phrase “a year like no other” was over-used in 2020, and is now redundant as 2021 bears striking similarities.
For Blackrock, it was a year like other since 2002, as the club ended its wait for a county senior hurling title. While being top of the tree now doesn’t necessarily make them complacent, manager Fergal Ryan isn’t flogging his players during this lockdown.
“We have an S&C guy, Steve Casey, who’s very good and they’ve all been given stuff to do individually,” he says.
“But, to be honest, it isn’t anything major. We’re not tracking it, we’re just asking fellas to do something three or four times a week, doing a 30-minute run – or three tens – at their own pace, to keep some way fit and just to get out and do something.
“We’ve no access to gyms – if they have something themselves at home, they can do it, but there’s not a lot you can do in this scenario.
“Now, other teams might be more focused on the time players are spending and giving them in-depth programmes, but we’ve taken the view that it’s very hard to do something on your own. We just want them to come back with some level of fitness as opposed to not doing anything.”
Blackrock had reached the final in 2017, losing to Imokilly, with a semi-final appearance the next year before a third-round loss in 2019. What was different last year?
“I think it’s a combination of a number of different things,” Ryan says.
“It was very different to all the other years and we tried to manage it. I think there was a shift of onus back on to them players themselves as opposed to us leading it.
“Over the last few years, they’ve been maturing and developing.
"There’s a sense of responsibility that we try to increase each year and maybe the timing of things last year, and the work we did when we went back, just seemed to work.
“Generally, they’re a good bunch of lads in the sense that they understand what it takes now to play at the top level and they all buy into it.”
That sense of collective responsibility means that Ryan is panicking about the down-time.
“We’re helped in the sense that we had something that seemed to work last year,” he says.
“I won’t say it benefited us – it’s a lot easier to say that when you’ve been successful the year before – but the timing of things looks like it could be similar to last year. If that’s the case, then hopefully we’ll be able to do thing much the same this year and hopefully we’ll have the same result but we’ll just have to wait and see!”
Ryan’s first medal as a player came in 1999, when Blackrock ended a 14-year wait, with two more following in 2001 and 2002. Does a drought weigh on players’ minds?
“It’s a factor for the club in that length of time, for sure,” he says, “but you’re trying to just get them to play in the now.
“When we won in 1999, it was a feeling of, ‘Yes, we finally got there,’ and within the group there was an elation – that’s there whether it’s first or second or third. There weren’t too many who won medals in 1985, Jim Cashman might have been the only one.
“One difference was that we had a lot of Cork players, whereas this team have had a few guys on the extended panel. After the county win last year, there are a few others, we’ll have to see what the year holds for them. We had a little bit more experience but they have the experience now of winning one.”
The victory over Glen Rovers was followed by celebrations that drew criticism. With the GAA suspending club activity the following day, Blackrock became more associated with it than anyone else. Ryan hopes that lessons were learned.
“What happened, you can’t stand up and say it was all fine or anything like that – it wasn’t and we didn’t help ourselves,” he says.
“The event at the club, where everybody else left and it was just the panel and two members of their families, was very well run. You can’t legislate for what happens outside, but as a club we could have been firmer. Looking back, you might have done things differently.
“The optics of it were poor, you can’t stand over it and say anything that would defend it. If Covid is still around this year and we win it again, we’ll do things differently!”