Mayo minor manager Tomás Morley is a busy man at present. While normally he would be well stuck into preparations for the Connacht minor championship, the Covid-19 crisis has put that on the long finger for now.
We caught up with him this week to see how he was adapting his plans for whatever may happen come this summer and whether we will see football or not. Tomorrow, he'll be running the Mayo Pink Ribbon sessions - a virtual concert that will take place this Saturday, May 2, on the Mayo Pink Ribbon Facebook page, starting at 7pm and lasting for 3+ hours. It will feature performances from local artists and bands and surprise contributions from some very well-known faces, with the money raised going to essential research at the National Breast Cancer Research Institute at University Hospital Galway, led by Professor Michael Kerin.
As for the football side of things - everything kind of came at once when the Covid-19 restrictions started being put in place, he told us: "The first thing, is that we had just trimmed the panel down to 26 on the Tuesday before everything closed down on the Thursday with the schools.
"I was always intending on having a smaller panel this year, just with the age of the lads. I would love if you could have 50 in and we could work on developing more lads, but at the end of the day you can only have 26 lads on the panel for match day. That is what I found the hardest the last few years, not being able to tog a few lads come match day and trying to keep them involved and part of it all - but there is still that feeling on the day of the match for them.
"We had done a lot of work, we might have started a bit later than previous years - we were actually supposed to have our first training session the Thursday that all the schools closed down, so that was knocked on the head and we haven't seen each other as a group since."
Not that the minor panel aren't doing any work - they are still tipping away on their own with strength and conditioning and nutrition programmes they are working on - but until a final decision is made on what will happen this summer, Morley doesn't want to overload them too much.
"I would compare it to the leaving cert in some ways; until you know when it is going to happen, it is very hard to prepare for anything.
"There is talk they will run it, maybe in July or in the Autumn with the seniors and have the final in December, but until we hear for sure, it is very hard to start something with a concerted effort, that will make sense and work for them.
"If you know it is in a month's time, you put the head down and go for it; if you know it is in three months time and you put the head down with the same effort, you'll end up burnt out in a month, so you need to look after yourself
"My worry is that the people who will make the decisions, might not be taking the welfare of the players into account. There is a sense that, if players at minor and every level can't be training all the time, and it is not about fitness and conditioning, then you'll see it come back to being just a skills game. But I don't think they are taking into account the conditioning side of the game, not the fitness - but the conditioning of players - you can go and run and go to your home gym, but the difference between that and the conditioning for football is huge."
Giving guys their best chance
Morley continued, saying: "My initial thoughts are I don't want this team or players to not get a shot at representing their county, but I also don't want them to be involved with something that might injure them or not be an enjoyable process.
"That is the balance for Croke Park, to see where that lands and what can be done; with two weeks notice or something like that, what are we expecting? The best footballers might win or it might not happen.
"If it came to that and you asked, how are you going to get on this year with two weeks preparation, I don't know. The purists might say, great, they won't be out there being run up hills, but that is not happening anymore.
"It takes an awful long time with u17s and younger, to instil what being from Mayo and representing Mayo is about. Last year, I think it took going through those two defeats in the round robin stage - to get that into their heads; they still had it a bit in their heads, that they were part of a county team and the elite, but what we were trying to get across to them was that what it's really about is working hard - so it took those losses to bring them around to that."
Giving the current Mayo minors their best opportunity to represent themselves, their families and their county, to the top of their abilities, is what Morley wants to see happening this summer, if it will be at all possible to do so.
"It takes a long time at minor level to prepare a team. They come into it without the physical side, they are growing mentally and physically, getting programmes that, more than seniors, have to be supervised, to ensure they are not doing something that in some way, would limit their opportunity to grow and develop in years to come. They don't know exactly what they are doing first off and they need to be supervised and monitored.
"Same with the skill level, they are not there yet; so that leaves a lot of work. If you compare that to senior level, they have a built-in fitness from over the years, if they come back in for a month or six weeks, they will be ready to go, but that is not there with clubs.
"So I wouldn't be in favour of doing it just for the sake of doing it - I want to see it being done right."
Resilience to the fore
As for the mental resilience of the players to deal with whatever happens, Morley believes that his players and young people in general don't get enough credit for how resilient they really are.
"I think young people have much more resilience and should get more credit than they do from some people. At the moment, we don't want to overload them, but we have them doing skills and nutrition and a few other things.
"I would say the biggest fear - and I know these guys and especially the guys who were involved last year - is that they will not get a chance to play for Mayo this year; in some cases this might be their only time to get to play for Mayo; the reality is, that is the case for a lot of guys once they come out of minor. So I think the biggest fear for them is they won't get to play.
"That age group, the 16/17 age group, who rely so much on contact with friends, that is probably the hardest hitting part of it all for them in general; but I've found the guys we have to be so resilient and I see one guy around where I live, and any time I'm passing on the road, I seem to see him out running and doing his fitness work when I pass.
"It is really hard to do skills work by yourself, I know in the old days we all did our own up against a wall, but now a lot of the stuff is with people and in groups; but we are getting them to get out and do what they can."
At the end of the day the most important thing is that it is all done safely, Morley says: "I just want it to be done in a safe way, I don't want there to be an air of fear for families; if we were told to go back training, we'd put in place everything that was needed."
And if it does happen that there is no minor football this year - there is one solution for those who have missed out that could and maybe should be looked at, he added: "If they thought outside the box, they could maybe for next year put it back to under 18 and give the lads the chance. I know myself that I would prefer if minor would be back at u18 all together."
You can donate to the Pink Ribbon Sessions at https://pink-ribbon-sessions.everydayhero.com/ie/pink-ribbon-sessions.