One of the most senior members of the Clare hurling panel is among those expressing a level of concern surrounding the return to play amid fears over the spread of Covid-19.
A survey by the Gaelic Players Association this week revealed that almost 20% of those canvassed admitted to having concerns about returning to the fray, a sentiment echoed by Pat O’Connor.
The Tubber man, who captained Clare in two Munster finals, feels while there are concerns surrounding what the future will hold, it remains to be seen exactly what that future will look like.
“There is a sense of excitement mixed with relief but also a bit of trepidation about what we are going into and how it will affect everything around us. To be perfectly honest about it, there is that sense of worry about it. I recently spent a day in a meeting room with our quality manager telling us that this is here to stay and outlining the steps we need to take long term and this is not going away. Those fears would still be there of course and there is no point in saying otherwise. At the same time, there is an acknowledgement from the Government in terms of the economy that we cannot stay doing what we were doing and certainly not to the level we were doing it at. We need to go out and get things moving again to a certain extent. Until we have a bank of a few weeks under our belts and see what impact it has on the numbers of cases then. We will be able to make an educated guess then on what it might look like long term. You would still have those worries and concerns but all we can do is our own bit and be smart” he stated.
O’Connor was part of the minor and U-21 squads that enjoyed huge success in the early part of the last decade, while he was also a central figure in the All-Ireland win of 2013. He says while players have missed out on time on the field, there is no comparison with the impact Covid-19 has had on families across the country.
“It has been tough but I would be keen to stress that we are not the victims of this. There have been a lot of families who have lost loved ones or had people sick and it has been a lot tougher on all our frontline workers. GAA players are certainly not victims in that sense, but the routine that we have become used to over the last few years has been turned upside down. I know from my own perspective and from talking to a few of the other lads that it has us take a breath and take stock of what path your life has taken. You see how much of your time is going into different things and you can look at how you could do things better. Personally, that is what I have used a lot of the time to do and I know a good few of the lads in the Clare set up have done the same. That being said, there is no point in saying that we have not missed it. All the training can sometimes be a bit of a slog but when it is taken away from you, you realise how much you miss it and how much you miss being with the lads. The dressing room atmosphere is something that I have really missed and the Sunday’s have been a long day to put down on a lot of occasions. You cannot beat the thrill of the big day and running out in front of the big crowds to test yourself against some of the best teams around. It has made you almost revisit your youth where you were out in the lawn hammering a ball off the wall pretending you have come back from 30 points down in an All-Ireland final to win the game with the last puc of the ball. We all love those big days and all that goes with it so that is something I have really missed” he said.
O’Connor works as the branch manager of Kerry Agribusiness in Ennis and was one of those working as normal throughout the Covid-19 crisis. He says that brought about its own concerns in the early part of the outbreak but feels maintaining a daily routine was a positive aspect.
“There was no real change for me on a day to today basis and if anything I was a little bit busier. We were deemed an essential service so we were working as usual. It was a worrying time to be working if I am honest because I was out of the house and mixing with people and no one really knew how prevalent it was. There was that concern about what you might be bringing home to loved ones and that really worried me and was always in the back of my mind. Thankfully nothing happened but it was just such an unknown threat and everyone was learning on their feet. We are not out of the woods yet but thankfully I have not experienced any major issues yet. Work has been a good distraction in one sense too because there was no real breaking of that routine. I still went to work for 8am and left in the evening at 5.45pm so there was a sense of fulfilment for your day and I was not at home twiddling my thumbs. That breaking of the routine has been a challenge for some people who have had that taken away from them. Mentally that can be tough if you are used to going all the time but thankfully that was not the case for me” he outlined.
The first on-field target for O’Connor will be on another tilt at the Clare intermediate title with Tubber. He says having club action back up and running before the intercounty season is something he agrees with.
“I think it was a good decision to go back with the clubs first. Geographically it made sense in that lads can confine themselves to their own patch as much as they can. I know there are lads driving from other parts of the country for training but for the most part when club training does resume, lads will only be moving around their own locality. It is going to look very different when it does get back on course in that we know there will be dressing rooms in operation and all that. I think they made the right call and I think the GAA has been very strong throughout all this. Lads were calling for roadmaps and dates early on and in fairness I thought the information was coming regularly and they could only work with what they had. It was changing every week so you would have to respect that. I thought John Horan was strong on what he believed in and did not really shift too far from what he said at the outset. They have done a great job to date and hopefully that will continue and the GAA won’t be the reason for another spike or anything like that” he stated.
It remains to be seen how sport after lockdown will look but O’Connor feels just having something to look forward to is enough for now.
“It feels a bit like you are back to just being a club player and the club players are the main focus. We have dates now and I am sure the county board will come out with draws and clarity around dates in due course. If you said that would happen four weeks ago, you could not have seen it happen and even eight or ten weeks ago, we thought there would be no hurling at all. We are in as good a place as we could possibly ask for and all we can do is keep following the guidelines. They keep telling us that this is the new normal so if everyone does their little bit, hopefully we can all pull through and get back to some sense of normality” he concluded.