Mary Immaculate College manager Jamie Wall is relishing what is a tough Fitzgibbon Cup draw as the Limerick side prepare to face UCC next Wednesday.
Kilbrittain man Wall led Mary I to the title in 2017 while they were finalists in 2019, losing to UCC. A home clash with the College gets them underway next week, with games against UCD and NUIG to follow. Wall knows it will be a challenge, but it’s one he welcomes.
“A tough game to start, a tough game in the middle and a tough one to finish!” the 29-year-old laughs.
“They’re the three originals in the competition and they’re the three at the top of the roll of honour. It’s a very difficult group but the other side of that is that, if you win a game or two, it puts you into a great position because you couldn’t but take positives from it.
“There have been other years where had kinder draws, but that’s the nature of a draw. If you’re going to go win and the competition, you’ll have to play teams like this and you might as well take them on early as take them on late.”
With third-level GAA competitions falling victim to Covid-19 last year, it’s been a case of trying to get back into the swing of things this time around.
“I know that the pre-Christmas period was tough for everyone,” Wall says, “just to get the thing off the ground again.
“In 2019, we had five teams in Mary I, which was unheard of for us, but now we’re barely getting a freshers team going. George Fitzgibbon is running it and it’s been difficult for him.
“It’s something that has shown all of us involved how important this year’s competition is because it gives lads a reference point. It’s wrong to say there’s a lost generation, but in college terms there’s a group there that have never had it, so you’re just trying to introduce it to them.
“Even though last year started late, it felt like a long year because of that, it that makes sense. Obviously, that was because of the way things are in the world and it was great to have it at all, but you’re cognisant that fellas were playing into the winter.
“The last couple of weeks, there has been a bit of familiarity creeping back in, the old habits kick back in and how the games and sessions play out in the four or five weeks beforehand.”
Mary I’s panel features a number of players who have U20 or U21 experience with their counties, including Colin O’Brien from Liscarroll, a star of Cork’s 2020 All-Ireland title at that grade.
“He’s going into fourth year with us,” Wall says.
“He has a lot of potential and a really high ceiling. He isn’t at it yet but Cork called him in last year after the 2020 U20 win and it’s hugely beneficial for players like that, who aren’t going back to senior clubs, to get the high-quality coaching.
“I was delighted to see that happen. With no disrespect to his own club, other lads were maybe going back to senior clubs and so could be left for a year or two, which might be of more benefit to them.”
As well as Mary I, Wall is again in charge of his home club, who reached the county lower IHC final last year, losing out to Lisgoold. He’s looking forward to that, glad of the clearer fixture structure now in place in Cork.
“We’re just getting the wheels in motion now again,” he says.
“This time of year, it’s just about dusting off the cobwebs. It’s great that we have a date for the start of championship and it’s towards the end of the summer – it would be very tough if you were trying to prepare lads for the championship to start in April.
“You’d be flat-out now and then, after the game, you’d be telling them to take a few months off again.
“It’s a more sustainable approach now – rather than flogging them, you’re just getting lads going again. It’s important to remember that we do this for enjoyable and social reasons.
“I think, in the next couple of years, as we get used to the new championship format, clubs and players will get better at the finding the balance.”