Apart from the welcome sunnier pre-season, Cork City’s Daire O’Connor doesn’t foresee many adjustments for players when the League of Ireland campaign restarts.
Missing the sight, and more importantly the sound, of the Shed End when they trot out at Turner's Cross for the visit of Bohemians on Sunday week may be a culture shock but O’Connor believes the profile of Neale Fenn’s panel cushions the blow.
“We’ve a very young squad,” says the 23-year-old ahead. “A lot of the players Neale brought in from the UK were used to playing in front of no fans at U23 teams, while Belfield wasn’t exactly packed when I was at UCD.
“Look, we love playing in front of a packed home crowd. Their singing got us through the last 10 minutes of the win over Finn Harps when we were out on our feet.
“But, after four months without matches, we’re just glad to be back playing the game we love.
“The health situation with Covid-19 in Ireland seems to be changing every week so maybe they'll allow 500 or 1,000 fans into the games later in the season. I’d even help them fund a crane to look in from over the stand.”
Those three points against Harps are all Fenn’s side have to show from the five games contested before the suspension of football.
Now operating off a season cut in half, only 13 games remain until the end of October for the Rebels to retain their top-flight status.
Cork, in Fenn’s first full season at the helm, sit second from bottom in the relegation play-off berth.
“It’s easy to be negative about our situation. We were taught a few harsh lessons in the opening spell, getting well beaten by Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers. However, those games against the top two came within 72 hours of each other and we won’t have to face them away again.
“It could be said we’re near the bottom of the table but I’d point out in this 10-team league that we’re just three points off the European qualification positions.
“There’s a lot of winnable matches ahead and we’ve taken lessons from some early-season naivety.
“The manager last week brought in some extra experience in Kevin O’Connor and Graham Cummins, which is hugely beneficial on and off the pitch. I doubt we’d have still been trying to play out from the back at 4-0 down with 10 men against Shamrock Rovers if those pair had been in the side.
“The embarrassment of that 6-0 defeat definitely rocked our confidence but there’s been a mindset drilled into us.”
Thanks to the expertise of Fenn’s assistant Joe Gamble, they’ve also had their physiques reconditioned.
From Zoom fitness classes to their second pre-season in six months when they returned to Bishopstown a month ago, getting back up to speed has been the priority.
“The fitness results last week were through the roof,” said the attacker.
“A lot of players didn’t feel as a fit as they should have been back in February. We easily got brushed aside by Dundalk and Rovers, something Neale and Joe have worked on during this period. Now, we’re all hooked on it.
Harmony in the dressing-room has been helped by the squad's dealings with the board during a period of turmoil. City were already struggling financially before the pandemic shut football, cashing in their sell-on clauses with Preston North End for Kevin O’Connor and Seán Maguire.
“I only recently read in the paper comments from the Treasurer (Conor Hallahan) about the club being on the brink just two days before the opening game against Shelbourne.
“With the help of the state subsidy scheme, they managed to maintain our full wages till May. I knew it was unsustainable and as players, we didn’t want to make the club go bust by drawing every cent from them.
“We’ve all been back on full wages since returning to training, in fairness to the board. They might get stick from some fans but I feel they’ve done a great job in this time of turbulence for the club.”
City are one of the several top-flight clubs offering their season-ticket holders free access to the streaming service launched by the FAI yesterday.
Others can purchase passes to watch all remaining top-flight and FAI Cup games this season, priced at €55 for fans in Ireland and €69 for the rest of the world.
More information at www.watchloi.ie