Cork hurling manager Kieran Kingston remains hopeful that the Allianz Hurling League will take place before this year’s championship commences.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cork have played just three games over a period covering October 31-November 14, losing to Waterford and Tipperary and beating Dublin.
With players like Anthony Nash, Christopher Joyce, Aidan Walsh and Conor Lehane no longer part of the panel, Kingston and his management team will be trying to integrate younger players on to the squad and, in that regard, he wants there to be as much of an opportunity as possible for that to happen.
“From our perspective, of course you’d love an extended national league campaign to give lads a bit of game-time,” he says.
“There’s a big gap between U20 and senior in every sense of the word. Even if fellas are physically ready and hurling ready, there’s a mental side to stepping up.
“Blooding guys in the Munster league and national league, as previously done, has been a plus, I’d put it that way.
“The one positive is that it’s a level playing field this year, which it wasn’t last year in terms of the amount of time teams had to prepare for championship.”
For now, that preparation has been taking place remotely.
“Our lads have been fantastic, working on their own,” Kingston says.
“We link with them on Zoom as often as required but we have to manage that as well because a lot of them are in college and it’s all on Zoom and others are working from home on Zoom.
“You have to limit the amount of work you do on Zoom but they have been great with what’s been given to them on an individual basis, which is the only interaction we’ve had with them.
“At one point, we felt that it might go back to what happened in 2020, with the club going first and we mightn’t be playing again until November, having had no national league.
“In one sense, all of the indications are there that inter-county will be first and it will be going ahead in the summertime. There would be nothing wrong with the club going ahead in the summer but, from an inter-county perspective, the players and supporters and the public in general want to see it going ahead in the best months.
“If it wasn’t played this year in the summer, you would have a period from summer of 2019 until the summer of 2022 where people hadn’t seen hurling in the summer months.”
Having previously been manager in 2016 and 2017, Kingston was reappointed to succeed John Meyler in the autumn of 2019. Naturally, he didn’t anticipate things going as they did.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging,” he says.
“We started out at the end of November 2019 and we were playing Munster league with a new panel and a new backroom.
“Then you’re into the national league, with approximately 20 players involved in Fitzgibbon and then, a few days after the last league game, you’re locked up!
"That's not in any way making excuses for our performance against Waterford, which I, the management, the players and the Cork hurling supporters know was not at the level expected of this team.
“It’s not ideal but, at the same time, there’s nothing normal about this. You’re in the middle of a pandemic and you have to play the cards you’re dealt. The frustrating thing about it leading into 2021 was that we kind of got an indication that we would be returning in early January.
“That went to February and then March and now we don’t know where it’s going to. Lads are trying to do things on their own and we’ve a very young panel, a panel of 35 with two-thirds of them 23 years of age or younger.
“Then again, we’re not the only ones in this boat. Other counties are the same and we have to be cognisant of that, number one. Number two, there are a lot more important issues in people’s lives at the moment in terms of their health and families’ health, businesses opening and closing and so on.
"As I said earlier, it's a level playing field in terms of preparation for 2021, which is all we want in the Cork senior hurling set-up. Thereafter, it's up to us.
“Sometimes, when we’re operating in our own little bubble, we have to realise that we need to look outside of it as well.”