LIAM O’Donovan is confident that Clonakilty’s footballers have finally started to find their feet at senior level again.
The past three seasons have seen Clon struggle to make an impact in the senior championship, twice struck in relegation play-offs (2015 and 2017) and also exiting at the round-three stage (2016) – but O’Donovan feels that better times are just around the corner.
The Cork U20 captained the Clon team that lost to Carbery Rangers in the opening round round of the SFC last month, the second season in a row Ross have won this fixture – but the big difference was the Clonakilty performance.
They lost by three points this year compared to 14 points last season. That constitutes improvement. The base that former manager Paul Holland put in place is now being built on by new boss Colm Aherne.
‘We are a young team but we are a year older now and everyone is realising what senior football is about,’ O’Donovan (20) told The Southern Star at the launch of the EirGrid U20 Football Championship.
‘Look at the difference between the two matches this year and last year against Carbery Rangers, there is no comparison. We brought a lot more intensity this time, we know more about the grade now.’
This is a young Clon team with O’Donovan (who captained the team against Ross), Mark White, Josh Henry, Ross Mannix, Sean White, Jack O’Mahony, Eoin Deasy, Sean O’Donoghue, Jack Cowhig all in their early 20s or younger.
‘A good shot of us, at 18 or 19, were thrown straight into senior and we were just out of minor and we weren’t used to it,’ the Clon defender admits.
‘When you are a young fella just out of minor and you come up against a 28-year-old, there is no comparison there.
‘This is my fourth season and it’s taken this long to realise what you need to do to play and compete in senior.
‘We have a very young team still, we’re averaging around 23 or 24, but I think we’ll progress more as we get older because we are getting more used to the competition.’
Next up for O’Donovan and Clon are Newcestown in round two, a match he predicts will be close.
‘Newcestown are so hard to beat in the championship, it’s never easy against them, they’re competitive and stubborn,’ the UCC second-year student said, and he also has the new Munster U20 football championship on his radar.
This is the first year since the grade has changed from U21 to U20, and the Clon man is now the oldest member on the panel.
He was involved last season when Cork lost the Munster U21 final to Kerry, 2-16 to 0-6, a memory he wants to erase.
‘That wasn’t a great day,’ he says.
‘You could say that result is parked from the view that there are only a few of us from last year with the U20s so most of the lads are new, but those who were there last season will remember the Munster final and want to make up for that.’
Another big difference is the U20 championship will be played in the summer as opposed to March and April with the U21 in recent times.
Cork’s first game is an U20 quarter-final against Tipperary on June 16th in Páirc Uí Rinn, and the winner will play Clare.
‘I remember when we played Kerry in the Munster final last year, and it’s not the reason we lost, but it was lashing rain and the standard of football suffers too,’ O’Donovan says.
‘In the summer, the likelihood is that the weather will be better and the ground will be harder and more positive football will be played. It will be faster and a better standard, I feel.
This is O’Donovan’s third successive season involved with Cork, first as a minor, and he is continuing to progress through the ranks. And as he finds his feet at senior level with Clon, he also hopes to make an impact in the U20 grade with Cork.