Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly is gearing up for his tenth year in the county jersey - and like last year he knows this is going to be another different type of season due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation.

Indeed, Donnelly knows better than most the difficulties that Covid-19 brings, seeing it first hand on the Covid ward at the Ulster Hospital where he works as a respiratory physiotherapist.

“The respiratory team are based on the Covid ward so we would be dealing with Covid patients and it is what it is now, it is just part of normal work - you go in and put on your PPE and you are working away with Covid patients, so it has been pretty full on.

“There has been a big surge since Christmas but hopefully we are starting to come past that now and we are getting through the worst of it,” he said.

When he gets home then he feels it is important to be able to switch off from work and spend time with wife Claire and seven month old daughter Emer.

“I probably found myself wanting to zone out from the news when I get home because the news is based around Covid so there are times you just need to switch off from it.

“It is nice to come home to the Emer and Claire and try spend some time with them. You don’t want to be thinking too much about work, you have to take a break from it,” he said.

He does though admit that this lockdown has been more difficult than first time around.

“The first time around you had the good weather and there was a wee bit of a novelty to it as well. This time around it is a lot different with the dark evenings and there is a lot of uncertainty about different things like when lockdown will finish and there is also that uncertainty about football and if and when it will start back up again. I think it has been tougher this time around,” he added.

The GAA have yet to release when they hope to start the new season but preparations continue for county squads, albeit players have to work away on their own, so for Donnelly time also has to be found to get in some fitness and conditioning work and he admits that it is much more difficult doing it on your own.

“Training on your own is tough. You rely a lot on the group, that is part and parcel of being in the squad and the team. You can bounce off other players and you don’t think twice about going to training and everybody pulls each other through tough sessions while you also miss the craic.

“Now there is WhatsApp groups and Zoom but a lot of it is yourself and motivating yourself to go and do it after work on your own so you do miss that social interaction and team camaraderie to get you through those tough sessions in pre-season,” he explained.

Despite that though the desire remains strong for Donnelly - who made his senior debut back in 2012 under Peter Canavan - to represent Fermanagh for a tenth year and he is looking forward to when the time comes that they can get back together as a collective group.

“I love playing for Fermanagh and it is something you want to do to the best of your ability.

“I think you be looking forward to getting out on the pitch even to just do some training and hopefully the season gets up and running and we can have a good crack at it. “Unfortunately, last year it wasn’t a good year for us and you want as many good years as possible,” said the Coa midfielder.

When they do get back it is likely that it will be a changed squad with some experienced players having departed while manager Ryan McMenamin has called up a number of younger players into his provisional squad to add to those who were introduced last year.

“One year rolls into the next and there was three or four years there when you were finished and you were straight back into club and then straight back into county again so last year gave you the time to step back and see how much the squad is changing and see the younger boys coming through.

“You have to realise that those players are coming into the squad because they are talented and have done a lot through the schools or their clubs or at underage level so it is exciting to see the prospects are there.

“They are also a different breed of player, they are coming in now much more conditioned and they have this opportunity now with Leon to build on different areas of their strength and conditioning as well over this period.

“Hopefully, when the season does start these lads will have benefitted from that wee bit of extra time to get themselves ready physically as well,” said Donnelly.

The Erne skipper would like there to be more clarity though from Croke Park on the plan for the season.

“It would be good if they could come out and give a bit more clarity on what they are thinking and even if it is that it won’t be to a certain date at the earliest at least you could do some planning but at the minute it is the not knowing and second guessing and that uncertainty is difficult,” he stated.

And when the competitive action returns with a shortened Division Three campaign against Derry, Cavan and Longford, Donnelly is hoping for an improvement on last year.

“Hopefully we can get some league form early on and then get a good run in the championship. With the championship you have the same hope every year.

“When we look back at our results last year there was only a few points in all our games apart from one so we know we weren’t far away but it was still a disappointing year. You hope that you can learn from that and improve.

“This year will be completely different, it is a shorter league so every game is going to have something riding on it. If you lose one you are going to be thinking that you don’t have a chance of promotion and if you win one you are feeling that you are in with a chance. It might have a championship feel to it right away,” he said.