While the lack of GAA action has had an impact on everybody involved in Gaelic games, former Cork star Ben O’Connor is affected on the double due.
The Newtownshandrum native, who captained Cork to win the 2004 All-Ireland and now coaches Midleton, is a full-time hurley-maker and so the cessation of activity means a lack of demand.
“Most fellas would make their living from the underage hurling, because of the amount of children playing,” he says.
“Last year, you got maybe seven or eight weeks of underage hurling, everything was cut back and every hurley-maker was in the same boat.
“As soon as things opened up, it was a case of trying to get as much done as you could in the few weeks, but it just made the year very short.
“If they keep going with the split between inter-county and club seasons, it’ll make the year shorter again. One time, clubs would be starting back in January and be going until September or October. Now, if they’re not playing championship until September, they mightn’t be starting back until April.
“But it is what it is and you just have to make as much out of it as you can, when the demand is there.
“Previously, you could be making them away but now there’s no point as you don’t know how many you’ll need. You’d end up having too many made and them just lying there, getting mouldy and dirty and you’d have to sand them a second time, adding more work.
“We’ll get this year out of the way and be ready to go again next year with a bit of normality.”
However, while O’Connor – who works with his brother John in producing hurleys – has plenty of experience in terms of manufacturing, he doesn’t ever offer unsolicited advice to the players he’s working with.
“Every fella has their own things in their head,” he says.
“One fella will come in and look at a hurley and say, ‘That’s terrible,’ and another will say, ‘That’s lovely.’
“They all have a different thing that they’re looking for – some fellas will want a bit of spring, others will want no spring, some want them heavy and some want them light. There’s no such thing as a good or a bad hurley!
“It’s all about what suits a fella, what feels good inside in the hand. Whatever it looks like or whatever shape or anything – if you like it, you like it and that’s it.”
Last year was O’Connor’s first with Midleton, as they finished third in a group featuring Sarsfields and Douglas. He believes 2021 will bring an improvement, but right now he’s leaving the players to their own devices.
“I’m not one for technology and Zoom wouldn’t be my thing,” he says.
“The way I have it below in Midleton is the way everyone’s supposed to have it – we haven’t done a thing.
“We haven’t done a tap, I haven’t been in contact with them or anything, but I’m sure they’re all doing bits and pieces on their own. They’re all young fellas and they all want to be in good shape, so I’m sure they’re all doing their own bit.
“The way I see it is that last year was interrupted and it was hard for the boys to get to know me and for me to get to know the boys. We got as much in as we could.
“This year now at least, we have last year under our belts. They’ve a fair idea of what I expect of them and I’ve a fair idea of what’s down there as well.
“Once we get into training, we should get back into things a bit faster than last year.”
This year’s Premier SHC will also feature Charleville, with whom O’Connor was previously involved. After the restructuring of the championships went against them at the end of 2019, he was delighted to see the north Cork club reach the top tier again.
“It was scandalous what happened to them,” he says.
“There were teams that lost two championship matches and stayed up and they had won one and been beaten by a point after extra time in the other one and they went down.
“But I had no doubt that they were going to win again last year. Even the day of the final against Fr O’Neills, for a long time it looked like they weren’t going to win it but one thing turned it in their favour, Darragh got a lucky goal from 45 yards out and it put them on the big’s back after that and they were flying it.”