Bellew delighted by efforts of hurlers in lockdown
Kevin Óg Carney
Hailing from west Belfast, it’s hardly surprising that Ollie Bellew has a soft spot for Celtic. Like all who follow the Bhoys, he reacted incredulously to the news which broke at the start of the current season that one of Neil Lennon’s senior players returned to collective training after the summer lockdown in overweight condition. The millionaire player was duly disciplined by the club.
“I’m the manager of a group of amateur players who behave in a professional manner,” the Cavan senior hurling manager told the Anglo-Celt this week.
“I was delighted, but not surprised, by the condition the lads were in last week when they came back. There were no big bellies, no one who had put on weight during the lockdown. They had obviously looked after themselves.”
Covid-19 has replaced Brexit as the number one subject of conversation this past 13 months among the chattering classes and it has also drove a horse and carriage through mentors’ plans, Bellew’s included.
But leave it to the Glen Road, Belfast resident to find a super silver lining on the cavernous cloud that has killed millions of people worldwide, wrecked the world’s largest economies and ushered in a whole new normal.
“I think the interaction we had with the lads during the lockdown really opened our eyes as to what these lads are about,” Bellew adds.
“We had meetings every Saturday evening via Zoom and each time three different players gave us an insight into their lives and their sporting and work careers and we all learned a lot about each other and it was a great bonding exercise.
“We made the most of the fact that we could use technology to keep the camp in tune and everyone seemed to enjoy the chance to catch up, especially having not been able to physically meet up.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to have any pre-season, challenge games either but the way the lads have conducted themselves and the kind of discipline and responsibility they have shown is a real statement of intent by them.”
Bellew understands things were never going to be perfect in the run up to what is a minimum of five competitive games ahead of Cavan over the next couple of months. Once again though, the players are front and central of the blues’ planning process:
“The lads have come back raring to go but they’re rusty, in terms of their skills and fitness and that’s acceptable given how long the lockdown has gone on for so our duty, as a team management is to, as ever, look after their welfare and carefully work out a programme of fitness and appropriate drills to minimize the chances of anyone picking up injuries.”
Monday, April 19th last saw the county’s flagship hurling squad take to the training field after some six months of being cut adrift on an ocean of uncertainty and isolation by dint of the ravages of the mother and father of pandemics.
Cavan kick-off their NHL Division 3B campaign with a home tie on May 16th against Fermanagh and Bellew is predictably anxious that his troops hit the ground running with subsequent league ties against Leitrim and Louth also looming large on the horizon.
The blue riband championship fare (Lory Meagher Cup) will be ignited in the last weekend of June when Fermanagh, Monaghan, Longford and Louth will seek to thwart the Breffni county in their bid to create a piece of history.
Standing on the cusp of his second season in charge, Bellew fingers Cavan’s priority this year with the precision of a surgeon’s knife:
“We feel we’ve a lot of boxes ticked and we’re in a good place in terms of our preparations but we see the league games as a stepping stone towards hitting the target in the Lory Meagher Cup,” the St. Galls’, Belfast clubman affirms.
“We’re not setting out to win the league but it would be great to get a couple of wins under our belt. Everyone knows that no matter how good your league season is, it’s quickly forgotten. The big focus though has to be on the championship.”
Pre-season has seen some comings and goings in the metaphorically small hurling world that Bellew and co. inhabit at Kingspan Breffni.
The county’s think-tank has been expanded. Niall Cleary, a native of Offaly and a prominent player with the highly respected Setanta club set-up in Donegal has come on board as a forwards’ coach while Gareth Bellew, a brother of the Cavan manager, assumes the role of goalkeepers’ coach.
Meanwhile, ex-player Derek Argue has also joined the re-jigged backroom team now also.
All told, Bellew believes Cavan Hurling Inc. now boasts a stronger set up this year. He is suffused with more hope, primarily by dint of the advent of the new – but mature - blood that has infused things on the playing side.
Interestingly, the Stomont Castle (local government) based worker is also impressed by the mentality which has evolved in the squad.
While the plan last year was to bring about “a greater work rate”, this year, the manager says, the emphasis will be on “increasing the quality of our performances on a consistent basis.”
The former Antrim underage mentor admits to being buoyed by the vibe he has gleaned from the dressing-room so far upon the players’ return to the fold.
One wonders does he imagine the county footballers’ Anglo Celt Cup success last year will serve to inspire his charges in their upcoming league and championship journeys?
“I don’t know about inspiring the lads because they don’t need to be inspired; they are self-inspired but the footballers’ Ulster title win will definitely help motivate them to do just as well or even better than they (footballers) did last year.
“It would be some story for Cavan GAA this year if the footballers could retain the championship and we won our (Lory Meagher Cup) championship at the same time. If everything works well, it could be a momentous year this year for everyone in Cavan.
“We’ll not get ahead of ourselves though. The footballers have given our lads great motivation but that’s all their success amounts to. As a group of players and as a management team, we have to do the business ourselves and that’s what we intend to do.”