Kanturk manager Tim Healy was never in any doubt that his charges would return to collective training in the finest condition.
Healy, you see, does a good bit of running and during the months of lockdown number three earlier this year, there were few members of the panel he didn’t encounter on the highways and byways around Kanturk.
With collective gatherings off limits, most welcome on the manager’s part was to see first hand the unglamorous work being put in by his players as they waited and waited for a return to the local field and a county final date.
The pounding of road during the dirtiest of weather and the countless home workouts sweated through was all in preparation — seemingly never-ending, at times — for tomorrow’s Cork premier intermediate football decider (which will be live-streamed on the Irish Examiner website), Kanturk and Knocknagree finally getting the chance to finish out a competition 10 months after winning their respective semi-finals.
Healy’s Kanturk panel contains a number of players with inter-county experience — namely Daniel O’Connell, Darren Browne, Lorcán and John McLoughlin, and Aidan and Ryan Walsh — and it is the culture fostered by these figures that drove the application and workrate throughout the panel during lockdown and ensured no ground was lost while pitches remained under lock and key until early May.
“I do a bit of running myself and when we were once again restricted to 5km, I was meeting the lads on the highways and byways around Kanturk, at strange times of the morning and evening,” Healy recalls.
“What really stood out to me when I got back involved was that all the guys operate at a very professional level. They didn’t know when the final was going to be played, so it was in their best interests to make sure they kept ticking over because we could have got a phone call at any time to say the match was going to be in three or four weeks.
“A culture and a standard has been set over the years by guys who have and still do play for Cork, but every fella in the panel takes on responsibility themselves because, as dual players, they know that if they aren’t putting it in, they could slip down the pecking order of the hurling, as well.
“I never had any worries that they’d come back in anything other than really good condition.”
But for all the work banked before and since collective training resumed, the fact remains that Kanturk have not played a championship fixture since their October 3 semi-final win over Cill na Martra.
Gauging exactly where his team is at with only league form to go on is no easy task.
“Fellas will grow through a championship, and then there is championship fitness, championship mentality, and so forth. Because the last championship game we played was in October, there is a small bit of the unknown going into Sunday evening.”
Standing in the opposite corner is fellow Duhallow club Knocknagree. Healy said the relationship between the two clubs is more respect than rivalry.
“The fact we are both from Duhallow, people talk up this rivalry. But more so than any rivalry, there is massive mutual respect.
“In 2017, when our hurlers won the All-Ireland intermediate club title on the same weekend Knocknagree won the junior football All-Ireland, there was a get-together of the two panels when they came home.
“Equally, if you go back over the Duhallow teams from the last number of years, they have been backboned by a good number of players from Knocknagree and Kanturk, so there’d be good friendships there, as well.
“Do I think those friendships will count for anything on Sunday? No.
“But I would say it is respect more than rivalry in the two camps.”