Keith Moynihan’s Mallow side face Valley Rovers this evening in the Cork senior football championship. Having won the premier intermediate grade last year on Leeside, Mallow have found the air thin at senior level.
“We had a difficult assignment away to Clonakilty in the first round of the league and were very unhappy about how that went,” said Moynihan of their spring outing.
“Then, Nemo Rangers came to town, two weeks before Slaughtneil, and, in fairness, they were going well. I thought we were a little bit closer than the scoreline suggested had we been more clinical and more accurate in the scoring zone while Nemo were unerring.”
Moynihan points out standards are noticeably higher in the top tier: “You see how quickly these guys move the ball and how they set up defensively. Teams are physical and probably take their conditioning more seriously at senior level. It’s all a learning curve and you have to learn quickly in Division 1.
I think speed is the biggest difference, as well as the thought process.
“Senior teams have bigger back-room teams, with greater finances among the more traditional clubs, as well. The whole thing is a bit more professional. Maybe panels are bigger, as well. It’s not really a 15-man game. It’s 20, 21-man. That’s the target. That’s where we have to go if we want to compete and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
And standards don’t come much higher than Nemo’s.
“When we saw the fixtures, which had Nemo coming to us in round 2, we knew it would be all guns blazing. We said we’d take that game, a one-off for what it is, as a learning curve —we’d see what kind of standard these guys were at.
“We were quite happy with how we matched them for parts of it but what was very evident in the first 20 minutes was that they only kicked one wide and had 1-5 or 1-6 scored.
“Nemo were familiar with their own movements: there was always someone off the shoulder and they were moving short and long depending on what the needs were. It was good that the boys experienced something like that. We said we were a long way off it in some terms, but in other ways we’ve now earned the right to play Nemo Rangers and take them on in league and championship.”
For one of those Nemo Rangers players the dynamic is different looking into this year’s Cork championship. Barry O’Driscoll’s last game in black and green was the All-Ireland club defeat by Corofin.
“I don’t think it’s one you really forget at all, you move on from it, but you don’t forget it. Look, what happened on the day, everyone saw — we didn’t perform how we wanted to, the other team did, and the result was what it was.
“At the same time, you have to move on from it and there’s another championship coming quickly around the corner, and we have to prepare ourselves for that.”
Is it cathartic to get back into the swing of games again?
“Definitely, and it’s better that it’s sooner rather than later, because the longer you leave it, the more pity you’re swimming around in. You start to move on from it, you go back training, you’re around the lads again, you’re enjoying it, and slowly but surely you put it in the rear-view mirror.
Training is for management to decide, but we are fit, we went into the All-Ireland final fit, so we’re not going to be a huge distance behind in that regard.
“Other teams are at a different stage of their year, they’ve done a preseason and we haven’t done that, so it’s probably — for us — going to be a case of finding out where you can fit in a block of training like that down the line.
“The break when Cork kicks in during the summer is probably where that block of training will kick in, but again, that’s for management to decide.”
Despite defeat by Corofin, it’s not all doom and gloom.
“We’d all be friends on the team, we had a couple of days after the final where we enjoyed ourselves,” says O’Driscoll. “It’s your buddies, after all. In terms of training you’d welcome a short break, but then Tuesday rolls around and you think, ‘I don’t have training tonight’ and you wish you did. It’ll be good to get things going again.”
For one of O’Driscoll’s Cork football colleagues Croke Park was a lot kinder this spring. Aidan Walsh picked up an All-Ireland intermediate hurling club medal with Kanturk, even if that run isn’t doing their footballers — facing into the premier intermediate championship — many favours.
“We only had our first league game the last week of March while every other team has two or three games played. We haven’t played football as a team since last year’s county (football) final, given the run to the All-Ireland final.
“The lads played Kiskeam in the first league game and were well beaten in the end, it was Kiskeam’s fourth game and our first. We have lads away with the Cork hurlers and the Cork U21s as well, so fellas are being pulled in all angles. But we just have to get on with it.”
Kanturk are playing senior hurling — to echo Moynihan of Mallow, Walsh says their “eyes were opened” to the demands of top tier hurling in their first league game, against Na Piarsaigh — which is another pressure to deal with.
“In fairness, the club have given us every help, they’re opening the doors to everything possible that can help us to do well.
“We probably have only the bare 20 players, and 14 dual players, so it’s going to be a big test. We had a good bit of luck last year, hopefully we haven’t used all of that up.
“Enjoying it is the biggest thing. We’re lucky we have Jim McCarthy and Jerome (Walsh) involved as coaches, they have a great relationship, which is very important for a dual club if it’s to do well in both codes: that should stand to us going forward.
“We’re also very lucky with our strength and conditioning coach, Jonny McGailey, he was with the Munster Rugby Academy last year, and you could see our fitness last year was very high — we won most of our games in the last five minutes. Nutrition is also big, myself and a few others would be used to meeting nutritionists with Cork, but it’s new to some of the younger lads.
“In fairness to them, they’re buying into it, ten of our starting team are under 24, so they’re eager to learn and when you’re young, and after reaching this level, they’d be keen to learn. Myself, (Anthony) Nash and Lorcan (McLoughlin) would be telling them the benefits of buying into it, and they are. It takes time to see those benefits but it’s worth it.”
Interestingly, Walsh sees club standards now as close to county standards a decade ago: “I started with Cork in 2009 and the standards of preparation at intercounty level then are probably what club players are doing now. It’s crazy, but if you want to be successful you have to put that work in. If you don’t do it you won’t be long falling away, and we want to prove 2017 wasn’t a flash in the pan.”