‘Every team is in the same position – we all just want to play games’
Galway inside forward Conor Whelan is eager to get back to helping his county win
Galway’s Conor Whelan scores a goal against Tipperary at Pearse Stadium on March 8th. Photograph: Tom O’Hanlon/Inpho
Be careful what comes next. In snapshots from a world knocked lethally off its tracks, individual stories are always short of big-picture significance, but everyone had their own concerns up to that point in time when everything changed.
Galway inside forward Conor Whelan was enjoying up until then a grand career. His first All-Ireland final came in 2015 when he was 18, and two years later he was on the county’s first team in 29 years to win the MacCarthy Cup – and he was named All-Star Young Hurler of the Year to boot.
Another final, lost to Limerick in 2018, was followed by the team flatlining a year ago, but signs of recovery this season were good.
Under Shane O’Neill’s new management this year, Galway had finished the league strongly. For the first time in four years, the county was enjoying not being anomalous members of the competition’s second tier and had rounded off its divisional matches with wins over Cork and Tipperary, the latter decorated with two goals by Whelan.
“From a players’ perspective,” he said at Thursday’s launch of Patrick Bourke Menswear Kings of the Game campaign, “something we said from the start of the league was to try and get as much out of it as possible. That was the objective from the start, that we were getting competitive games for the first time since 16th June last year. We were really eager to get out and play.
“We started to really enjoy it towards the end of the league. Teams were starting to come together. Lots of lads were getting chances and sticking their hands up, creating good competition for places.
Our GAA pitch was shut off straight away before any other one and all training was stopped straight away
“Then we were looking forward to playing Wexford in a quarter-final. We were meeting them later on in Leinster so that was going to be a huge game for us. Obviously, exceptional circumstances, understandably that all changed.
“We still have a degree of confidence coming from the league in that our last two games were probably our strongest. The trajectory of our graph was going up. If anything, we can take a lot of positives from it. There’s obviously lots of areas to work on but overall I’d say we’re fairly satisfied.”
The current public health crisis is familiar because his home place, Kinvara, was one of the first places in Ireland to register the presence of coronavirus. A local family of five picked it up on a skiing holiday, having shared an airport taxi with some Germans who later tested positive.
Whelan said that the issue was taken very seriously in the community.
“Definitely, I think it was a community effort. The people of Kinvara have been very proactive in their attempts to try and ensure social distancing is in place. Our GAA pitch was shut off straight away before any other one and all training, collective training, was stopped straight away. I think ultimately the plan was to try and start social distancing before it became a norm and to try and ensure okay, one family has this virus but for it not to spread around the rest of the town, and thankfully we were successful in doing that.”
He teaches English and history at Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar and, like most teachers in these difficult circumstances, is concerned for the effect on pupils, as he organises what he can on the internet even though none of his classes are taking public exams this year.
“My number one priority there wouldn’t really be myself – I think that’ll all be sorted out. I think it’s more the students that should be the focus, really, ensuring that everyone gets a fair chance.
“Students are having issues with IT and no access to internet in some homes and in others through a lack of either wanting to do it or finding it difficult to do it, isolated on their own, finding it difficult with instructions and stuff, particularly younger students.
“That’s extremely difficult for teachers to be able to manage all that, but we’re just trying to do the best we can and hopefully we’ll get the chance to pick it up again. But you definitely wouldn’t be satisfied with the level of teaching that you’re able to do online, but I suppose you just have to do the most with what you have.”
Maintaining a routine is important, making sure to get up every morning, eating properly, doing gym work at home – “a few small bits, nothing really; I probably really wouldn’t call it a gym” – before school work.
“They all submit their work. They take a photograph of the work they’ve written into their copy and submit it online so I have to try and download that and print it out and look over it and review it and write back some feedback.”
You are not going to get any training done the week of a game, because you need to bring back down the intensity
Galway management has left it up to the players to maintain fitness levels, but Whelan feels that they’d need about four weeks’ preparation time before any resumption, and certainly more than a fortnight.
“You are not going to get any level of training done the week of a game, because obviously you need to bring back down the intensity and the load that week. So really you are talking one week of collective training. What can you do in a week? Three sessions.”
The GAA acknowledges that it is completely at the mercy of whenever its activities can recommence. There is a view that that will be sufficiently late to rule out any championship format except sudden-death. Whelan is none the wiser.
“I don’t really have any overall theory on it to be honest. I’d probably welcome any sort of championship at the moment and I think every team is nearly in the same position – we all just want to play games.”