You’d imagine there’s not a single GAA player out there who would disagree with Ken O’Halloran’s sentiment that “the break, in so many ways, did everyone the world of good”.
More than anything, says the former Cork football goalkeeper, the three months without collective GAA activity of any sort lent itself to a renewed sense of appreciation for the game.
This evening marks the beginning of O’Halloran’s 18th county championship campaign in the Bishopstown colours and while the lead-in has been far, far shorter than previous seasons, there are few he has enjoyed more.
“It was obviously very unpredictable for a period as to whether there would be GAA this year, but absolutely delighted to get back,” remarked the Bishopstown number one.
“The break showed us all what you'd miss. I don't think we'll take training for granted ever again.
“Being able to go back up to the pitch now, it is certainly not something we are taking for granted considering where we were a few months ago. Going up and just being around the lads each week, it has been very enjoyable. And the matches, too, be they hurling or football, everyone is grateful to be back playing.”
In his many seasons with the Cork city club, he is not sure if the playing numbers have ever been so strong. The guarantee of three county championship games at the height of summer is a first and with the likelihood that normal service will resume next year and clubs will find themselves relegated back to April and the autumn months, O’Halloran is determined to savour the uniqueness of this summer’s championship.
"There is no one gone away on a J1 or no one gone travelling for the summer like you’d have in other years, so numbers are fantastic. The majority are working from home so whoever might have been living away or in Dublin is back in Bishopstown. Everyone is around, and that is great for squad morale and great for training too because it lends itself to good quality training sessions.”
Douglas provide the opposition at Páirc Uí Rinn this evening, Bishopstown searching for their first county championship win in over two years. Coincidentally, it was Douglas they overcame, that victory arriving on April 7, 2018.
It’s probable that they’ll have to take down either Douglas, semi-finalists last year, or reigning champions Nemo Rangers to make the quarter-finals. Not since 2015 have they progressed to that stage of the championship, a far cry from when O’Halloran joined the squad in 2003, Bishopstown contesting the county final in ‘02 and ‘04.
“The last few years have been challenging enough for us. We do have, though, a couple of young players coming through now. The club won a Premier 2 county minor title under Diarmuid Vaughan in 2018, so there are a few green shoots in the club because we probably were short a couple of lads the last few years in terms of young fellas coming through.
“We were getting them through in threes and fours, but then there might be a gap of a few years. The age profile of the team has definitely gone up in the last few years. We have a good few fellas over 30, which is obviously good in that we are hanging onto these fellas, but there is nothing like a couple of young fellas coming through with their energy. It gives everyone a lift.”
Speaking of youngsters, Ken and his wife, Kiki, were joined by a new addition — baby Robyn — last weekend.
With his wife in the final weeks of pregnancy when GAA activity resumed in mid-June, O’Halloran was ever conscious to ensure he was following all guidelines when down at the local field.
“There is no underlying illness so I felt happy enough to go back, but obviously, being considerate about it, trying to keep away from lads, and not using other people's water bottles. It was a case of just making sure that you did the basics right and thankfully, everything has gone well since.”