THE impact of the pandemic has been seen in many different ways across the sporting spectrum with the phrase 'a year like no other' being constantly used to describe the unique events.
In local GAA the same phrase could be described to chart not only the year 2020 but also 2019 for Russell Rovers GAA club, who have enjoyed a remarkable recent period in the limelight.
After winning county and provincial junior hurling titles for the first time ever in 2019, the following year saw them line out in Croke Park in the All-Ireland final before games were halted and then later in the year they went on to reach the Lower Intermediate County final.
As we know that match against Castlemartyr was amongst a number of high profile deciders that never took place due to restrictions last autumn and the consequences of the postponement means that intriguingly manager Michael Mannion who led his club on the silverware trail will not be in charge when the final does take place.
It will, though, be a case of one very good club man handing over the reins of power to another trusted servant in the shape of new boss Seamus Kennefick.
“We had to draw a line in the sand at some stage and this seemed the best pathway to take,” commented Michael who takes up the storyline.
“As a management group, we had decided that we were concluding our term at the end of the 2020 championship.
“I had a new arrival in my family with the birth of my son Milo and our coach Noel Furlong was also unavailable. He was taking over the Cork minors and also had a new baby arriving in the household. Selector Eoin Ivers also has his own business.
“However, the way the season evolved we were unsure when the decider would take place, but when it became clear that it was going back to the summer, we made a definite call.
“For Seamus and his management team, they now have the opportunity to plan ahead for the year. The priority is that the club wins the county final.”
He enjoyed a remarkable tenure in the Rovers hot seat and it’s fair to say he has been hugely responsible for changing the face of the club.
From also-rans, the men in black and amber have become a team that has a real winning mentality. The club is the heart of the community with a whole new generation of fans from Ballycotton, Shanagarry, Churchtown South and surrounding areas have become hooked on their exploits.
Little did Michael know when he returned from work duties in India in 2015, that a whole new world was about to unfold.
He was persuaded to go back playing and to line out in goal for the club’s junior B footballers. A year down the road he was asked to take over the managerial responsibilities.
Things went well and when Joe Walshe and his hurling management team stepped down after a year which saw Rovers reach the divisional junior A decider, the call was made for Michael to double job as hurling and football supremo.
“Great credit must go to Joe Walshe, Anthony Archer and Mossy Tattan who had done a great job with the squad before us.
“When they took the reins nobody wanted the job, but they stepped up to the mark and got the belief and hunger into the boys. When I was taking over, I think the players knew the potential that was in the group,” recalls Michael.
“It just took off from there, in the first year I was lucky enough to be able to coax Frank Flannery to come on board as coach, doing both codes together.
“We won our first East Cork title with victory over St Ita’s, reached the county hurling final but lost to Cloughduv, won our first football junior B title since 1986 and then won the county football title.
“The following year Frank stepped aside and went on to manage Westmeath and I again was lucky enough to coax my old school friend Noel Furlong to join us as coach.
“Even though I still had the football role also, the priority was hurling, retaining the East Cork crown and ultimately trying to win our first county title.
“We achieved that and enjoyed a fabulous run afterwards, winning the Munster title and getting our day out in Croke Park.
“Even though the All-Ireland final did not go our way, it was still a fabulous achievement for the club. I think overall we paced ourselves well through that season, starting pre-season a bit later than usual.
“It was brilliant to be involved and despite the disappointment in Dublin, we all have great memories
“I think on a personal level going into the local primary school the day after the county final victory will be a stand-out memory for a long time.”
He won’t be completely detached from the action in this season.
He has been drafted in a background role by the Noel Furlong with the Cork minors and while his wife Nona will feel he owes her plenty of non-hurling days after a hectic last few years, keeping a watchful eye on his beloved Liverpool and striking a golf ball when courses reopen will be other priority sporting pursuits.
One feels though as a manager, as the main man, the name of Michael Mannion will reappear again in the years ahead.