VALLEY Rovers will reap the benefits of Chris O’Leary’s full attention this season.
The Fitzgibbon Cup winning UCC defender is fully focussed on club action with no inter-county commitments – and that’s good news for Valleys’ hurling and football teams.
A former Cork minor and U20 hurler who has also been involved with the county seniors, the 21-year-old is not part of John Meyler’s panel this season.
‘At the moment I am focussing on the club and my own training as well,’ O’Leary told The Southern Star.
‘With Valleys we have the hurling and the football, and hopefully we will go a step further this year in both.
‘I’ll be training away on my own as well and I’ll have time to improve parts of my game that I wouldn’t have had time to over the last few years. Whatever happens in the future, maybe I will get a call from Cork again, but for now it’s all about Valleys.’
It’s already been a memorable start to the year for O’Leary who was right half back on the UCC team that won the Fitzgibbon Cup in February. Off the back of their success in the final against Mary I and O’Leary’s heroic 1-5 haul in a nail-biting semi-final against DCU, he was presented with a Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Sports Star February monthly award.
In the semi, O’Leary converted an 82nd minute penalty as UCC won 2-17 to 0-22. He showed nerves of steel.
‘With the penalty it was between myself and Shane Conway. We decided that I’d take it. I was comfortable with that because I hit a few with the club and have practised them a fair bit so I felt confident taking it. I didn’t hit it too well but luckily it trickled in,’ O’Leary recalls.
UCC were far too strong for Mary I, managed by Kilbrittain’s Jamie Wall, in the final as they won 2-21 to 0-13, and O’Leary was solid again in the half-back line. He has played in attack and midfield but words of advice from Ger Cunningham – part of the UCC backroom team – struck a chord with O’Leary at the start of the campaign,
‘The half back line is definitely my most comfortable position,’ O’Leary says.
‘I do play in the forwards for the club because that’s where I am needed.
‘I met Ger at the start of the year and he told me he was going to try me right half back and he wanted me to nail down that position. He said it was my opportunity to take.
‘I played well in a few league games and I tried to continue my form through the Fitzgibbon to hold down that spot. That run of games helped me to become more comfortable as a half back and I feel better there now.’
With no Cork commitments this season Valleys will see a lot more of O’Leary then in recent seasons and he is back involved with the footballers too.
‘I haven’t been playing (football with Valleys) the last few years because I was with the Cork hurlers and I was focussed on that. I felt that if I was playing football then I might miss a chance with Cork,’ he said.
‘This year it’s nice to be back. It’s a break from the hurling too and that has its benefits. I can give my full commitment this year and maybe benefit the team some small bit.’
First up for the Ned English-trained Valleys in the Cork SFC is a date with Nemo Rangers in round one on April 6th.
‘We have had similar results in the recent years. We’ve got to the quarter-finals in the football the last three years. We feel like we should definitely be pushing on this year. The talent is there. We have plenty of young fellas coming through. Hopefully we can go further and see can we match Nemo, Castlehaven, the Barrs and Duhallow,’ O’Leary says, while the hurlers are also striving for improvement in the county premier intermediate championship.
‘In hurling we got to the semi-final last year and we got to the final against Newcestown a few years ago so we know we are there or thereabouts. What we need is a bigger panel and more players coming through so we can have more options in different positions – that will definitely help us move on another step and win some silverware,’ says O’Leary who wants to add to his medal haul this season.