This is Brian O’Driscoll’s fourth season as a Cork senior but we still feel we’ve only seen the best of him in glimpses. So how do we get the best out of this talented Caheragh man? KIERAN McCARTHY talks to two men who know him well
BILLY Morgan cuts straight to the chase.
He has seen enough of Brian O’Driscoll with UCC to know a good player when he sees one.
‘Potentially he can be very good, he can be among the best in the country,’ Morgan states, matter-of-factly.
He’s not alone in rating O’Driscoll highly, the 22-year-old Caheragh man who was a Cork U21 for four years (2012-15), a Cork minor before that and is now starting his fourth season as a Cork senior.
The youngest of the three O’Driscoll brothers is potentially the best of the lot, but at senior level it’s been a mixed bag of the good (2015 drawn Munster SFC final in Killarney) and the not-so-good (his substitute appearance v Donegal in 2016 All-Ireland qualifier) and a lot of in-between performances.
The challenge for Peadar Healy and his management team is to get the best out of a player who has the ability to become a permanent fixture in the Cork senior team for the next ten years.
Question is, where is his best position?
The general feeling was that O’Driscoll could slot into the half-back line but there’s been a steady sway towards starting him in the half-forward line. Billy Morgan is one of the converted.
‘I always thought in the half-back line, centre-half back, he’s powerful there,’ the UCC manager explained.
‘I was at the Carbery GAA awards last November where he was named centre forward on their All-Stars team. I used to play him as a wing forward coming back around midfield, as a third midfielder, so I asked fellas about him as a centre forward and they were raving about him.
‘We started to play him centre forward then, he was very good there because he’s very strong, he’s a good independent ball winner, he’s a good kicker of a ball, he can score and he was beginning to settle into the position.
‘I’m changing my mind, I can see him as a centre forward,’ added Morgan, who used him in a more advanced role in this year’s Sigerson Cup campaign.
O’Driscoll was shortlisted for the 2016 Carbery Junior Footballer of the Year award – he was man-of-the-match against St James’ in round one and against Barryroe in the quarter-final, a match where he kicked 1-7, and he impressed in the semi-final against St Colum’s, to the extent he was named centre forward on the Carbery All-Stars team.
Against Fermanagh last Sunday in the Allianz Football League, O’Driscoll scored two points from play from wing forward, and his former Cork U21 manager Sean Hayes is another who feels he can find a home for himself in attack – but he also points out that O’Driscoll has a lot to learn, and fast.
His decision-making needs to improve.
‘Brian has the ability, he is fast, strong and direct so he can take on the half-back line and get through it. If he can get his decision making right, to work on the right thing at the right time, he will be very good,’ Cork U21 boss Hayes said.
‘He needs to hold his head to a degree. He needs to do the right thing more. Sometimes, he tries something that he might get away with in Carbery junior footballer but he won’t get away with when he’s with Cork.’
Hayes makes an excellent point as regards O’Driscoll and Tadhg MacCarthaigh. With the greatest respect, Caheragh are a junior team and O’Driscoll takes on huge responsibility – he attacks, he scores, he takes frees, he defends, he is everywhere. But with Cork he is one cog in a machine where he lines out with better players and he needs to get the junior footballer out of his system.
‘Decision-making is important, when to pass, when to carry, when to shoot, when to lay it off, and he’ll learn all that. He is great to train and work with. I think, as time will go by, we’ll see him get better and better,’ Morgan says.
Learning to make the right choices comes with maturity and experience, and we can’t forget that O’Driscoll will only be 23 in April, so we’re talking about a work in progress – but he has the ingredients to become a leader.
‘He is built perfectly, he has fantastic football ability, he has strength and power and is quite capable of scoring from a long way out,’ Sean Hayes points out, but what O’Driscoll also needs to do is control his aggression, and he’s learning that.
He has been known to lose his head during games – but that’s part of his game, he needs that fire to an extent, and once it’s controlled aggression he can channel that into his performance.
‘You need to get him to focus purely on his role because he can lose concentration, but if you get him tuned in, you’ve a fella who will do anything for the team,’ Hayes adds.
‘I love being associated with him, I love his competitive edge,’ the former Cork boss said.
‘He has great balls, great bottle, he’s not frightened of anything and give him his due, he is willing to listen and get on.
‘He’s a leader, he will drive on and he hates being beaten.
‘He has that will-to-win, he is still a young man who is developing all the time and he can develop into one of the best in the country.’
But to get the best out of him, you need to keep O’Driscoll onside. It’s not exactly an arm-around-the-shoulder approach but you need him to buy into your cause and believe in what you’re aiming for, and Morgan has advice for the current Cork management team: trust him a bit more.
‘If they trusted him a little bit more, it would help him. He needs to settle down in one position. If he gets a run of games and settles in, he’ll get confidence from that and he’ll develop into one of the best players in the country,’ Morgan said.
So far his senior championship career includes starts against Sligo and Mayo in 2014, he started three of Cork’s four championship ties in 2015 (v Clare, Kerry twice) and was brought on as a sub against Kildare, while last season he started against Tipperary, Limerick and Longford, but was subbed around half time in the last two, and he was dropped to the bench for the loss to Donegal, coming on as a second-half sub.
After three championship campaigns, the general feeling is that he is capable of a lot better.
Injuries haven’t been kind either, a dislocated shoulder sidelined him for five months in 2014 and in 2015, ’16 and this year, he has suffered hamstring injuries, but what he needs now is a consistent run of games in one position.
‘He needs to be trusted more,’ Morgan repeated.
‘There are times when I have given out to him about certain things, he has always been receptive to that, he will take the criticism and he’s learn. We’re talking about a very talented footballer here.’
Cork aren’t blessed with many footballers of O’Driscoll’s guise, a determined guy how has the potential to become a leader in a team crying out for leaders. Even though he is open to playing anywhere in the middle eight, he needs to settle on one position and Peadar Healy and Co need to give him a consistent run of games.
His pedigree and potential aren’t being question – but potential means nothing if you don’t do anything with it.