Cribbin rues late start as weaker sides caught cold
Davy Fitzgerald thought he knew hard times on a training field in Crusheen until he stepped from his car into the biting cold Waterford air in the grounds of Mount Sion last Thursday night.
"Never felt it as cold in all my life," recalled Fitzgerald.
That they got a training session together, half on the city club's all-weather, the other half on one of the fields, has proved the exception rather than the rule for inter-county teams across the country in the last 10 days.
"They were the toughest conditions I ever experienced on a training field but fair play to our lads, they made a sacrifice to get there and then another one to get out in it," said Fitzgerald of the deep freeze conditions.
"We had to cancel a couple of other sessions but at least we got one in. There has to be a start. But it's been very tough."
It was the same across the country. As Kerry's All-Ireland football champions mixed with the fastest man in the world and Kilkenny, the hurling kingpins, were rising from their slumber to consider the journey home from Malaysia, most of the chasing bunch were battling, and failing, to make up some ground on them.
Offaly manager Tom Cribbin is adamant the way the season is set out anyway penalises weaker counties. And that was before any snow fell or ice hardened the ground.
"I'd be saying this anyway regardless of the weather conditions. For any new manager, for any manager of a weaker county team, not being allowed to get up and running before January 1 is crazy. What chance does it give them?" he said.
Cribbin has not been able to convene a proper football training session in 2010, reverting instead to indoor and aerobic work.
"We've had to improvise, find suitable indoor facilities. It's been a challenge," he said.
Some of their planned sessions have been cancelled, not because of unavailable pitches but on grounds of the health and safety of their players.
"We finally got something together at the weekend. But it falls nicely for the stronger counties with the bigger panels. If you are an underachieving county you need the league to generate momentum and belief.
"But to generate that you need an earlier starting date. Players and squads accustomed to success can leave it off until January, the rest can't. It's as simple as that."
Cribbin would alternatively propose starting the league at a later date in early March and playing week by week until the middle to the end of April, if the training ban remains in place.
"I don't think that would be a problem. Getting the Sigerson Cup and early rounds of the U-21 championship away by the end of February would suit a lot of people. Players wouldn't mind it," Cribbin continued.
"Right now we have three players injured and seven or eight with colleges which leaves us with under 20. There's the option of calling in players just to fill in but they know that once normal service is resumed and the college players are back, they're essentially gone. That's unfair. I think this whole balance between training bans, college commitments and league starts has to be thought out," said Cribbin, who is starting his first full season in the midlands.
It's been a logistical nightmare for Wicklow who have yet to have a proper training session in 2010.
Martin Coleman, who co-ordinates matters on behalf of Mick O'Dwyer, is tasked with finding suitable training venues for the squad, but since the flag officially dropped for the new season on January 1, it has been nothing but despair.
"We've had to shelve three planned training sessions, one in Shillelagh on January 3, another in Baltinglass two days later when 10 out of a training squad of 40 could only make it there. And another last Thursday night went by the wayside in Newtown," said Coleman yesterday.
"In addition the Louth game went by the wayside. We have a training session planned for Baltinglass tomorrow night but we won't be making a call on it until lunchtime tomorrow.
"I don't know what it has been like for other counties but for our team it has been disastrous," added Coleman.
"We tend to move our training sessions around from venue to venue. But whether it's east, west or in the south of the county the story has been the same. We'll be preparing for a first game of the season against Louth with little or nothing done," he said.
An unexpected thaw however should mean that the inter-county season gets into full swing this weekend. The Munster Council are hoping to get their programme up and running on Thursday with three McGrath Cup games fixed for Tralee, Tipperary town and Limerick.
The Council are due to make a call later today on whether or not those games go ahead.
If they don't, they will be re-fixed for Saturday (2.0), with the winners facing quarter-finals 24 hours later.
Munster Council PRO Jim Forbes said yesterday it was the desire of the counties to get the games played, even if it meant two in 24 hours.
Munster has been worst affected by the weekend snow but the provincial council feel the three pitches in question for Thursday night's games will stand up to the added surface water that will now become a problem.
Leinster Council officials are also growing confident that their programme of O'Byrne Cup games, rescheduled for this weekend, will go ahead and the same optimism abounds in Connacht and Ulster.