Cork stars begin the countdown to resuming inter-county training ahead of the start of a new season

Football, hurling, camogie and ladies football are poised to return next month once the Covid vaccination process cranks up a number of levels
Cork stars begin the countdown to resuming inter-county training ahead of the start of a new season

Cork players Amy O'Connor, Colm Spillane, Mark Collins and Maire O'Callaghan can return to inter-county training on April 19 in preparation for the new season. Pic:  Larry Cummins

THERE was a common thread running through the Cork players who must have had pains in their hands from drawing so many balls in the recent Rebels’ Bounty draw.

On over 90 occasions Mark Collins, Colm Spillane, Amy O’Connor and Maire O’Callaghan went through the process during the mask-wearing procedure.

There was a tale of regret from the quartet about how their own 2020 seasons finished in football, hurling, camogie and ladies football.

None had championship silverware to show for all their efforts during the pandemic and when the campaign finished, that was it, no more opportunities to get on the bike again.

“Usually you’d be back in January playing matches, but we’ve had to wait much longer this time,” said Collins, echoing the sentiments of his fellow participants.

His year ended with the defeat by Tipperary in the Munster final while O’Connor’s finished with the All-Ireland semi-final loss to eventual champions Kilkenny and O’Callaghan’s with the defeat by Dublin in the final at Croke Park.

At least they had the satisfaction of making it to the important finals unlike the Cork hurlers, who lost to Waterford in Munster and Tipperary in round 2 of the qualifiers after overcoming Dublin in the first round.

“Of course, it was very disappointing because we had the high of beating Kerry in the semi-final and were looking forward to a Munster final,” Collins added.

“But, we just didn’t perform on the day and that was a big disappointment.

“Yet, there are a lot of positives to take from the last couple of years and we’re really looking forward to the year ahead.”

All four are eagerly anticipating a return to collective training very soon with the prospect of inter-county games resuming next month.

Cork players are no different to the rest of the population in trying to come to terms with the mental and physical demands imposed by the restrictions during this latest lockdown.

“I’m getting through this one well enough, but as Amy was saying hopefully there’s light at the end of the tunnel and there’s something to look forward to.

“At the moment we’re just training away on our own and trying to stay as positive as can be and looking forward to the time ahead.

“We have an unbelievable set-up with a first class coach in Cian O’Neill and it’s the same with Kevin Smith our strength and conditioning coach.

“They’re on to us all the time and if we need anything they are there for us, so we’re quite lucky in that way.

“We staying together with Zoom calls and WhatsApp, anything you can do to stay in touch.”

The Castlehaven captain is hoping there will be a league campaign, when Cork will be in division 2 South with Clare, Kildare and Laois.

“The only thing with scrapping the league would be that teams would look to play matches before the championship anyway.

“So, instead of playing challenge games you might as well go and play competitive matches in the league.

“I think that would be great preparation for championship, whether it would be a knock-out or back-door.”

Collins also has a county final against Nemo Rangers to look forward to once the inter-county ends.

“It’s a good thing in one way in that it’s a very exciting time.

“If you were told at the start of any year that you had one match to win a county you’d grab someone’s hand off.

“At the other end of that, however, is the unknown aspect of when the game will actually take place and trying to keep the lads focused without burning them out at the same time which would be the main issue.”

The memory of the Haven’s sudden-death penalty shoot out win against St Finbarr’s in the semi-final still remains.

“A couple of weeks leading up to the game there was a small bit of messing I suppose in training about the possibility of penalties.

“We don’t normally practice them as a rule and it was just a crazy night.

“Looking back on it we were probably lucky to get to penalties because the ’Barr’s were probably the better team on the night,” Collins concluded.

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