CORK U20 captain Peter O’Driscoll has hailed the influence of manager Keith Ricken ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone.
Ricken was parachuted into the job as Cork U20 football manager in late January after the resignation of Gene O’Driscoll earlier in the month. The new boss made an instant impact, says Ilen Rovers clubman O’Driscoll.
‘He is a fantastic manager. He lets it be player-led because he says when we cross the white line it’s down to the players,’ O’Driscoll explains.
‘He is a different manager to anyone I have worked with before. He certainly gives you a lot of food for thought when it comes to different aspects of the game. He’s top class.
‘When Keith and his management team came in at the end of January, they set out that if we bought in to what they wanted to do, there is quality in this team and the possibilities are endless. Everyone has bought in to it, training has been fantastic, there are 40 lads at training, it’s competitive and there is a real bond in this group.’
The Ricken effect has certainly borne fruit as Cork dethroned reigning champions Kerry in the Munster U20 final. That was a particularly impressive performance and the reward is an All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone this Sunday.
As good as Cork were against Kerry, wing back O’Driscoll – one of the survivors from last year’s U20 team – says that they need to find more to get the better of the Ulster champs.
‘We are a team that says our best is never good enough. We are concentrating on Tyrone now and we hope that there is another ten per cent in us,’ the Ilen man says.
‘They will have had more championship games than us and they will have had an extra week off too but we have to go hammer and tongs again.’
Tyrone have beaten Down (2-11 to 1-12), Cavan (0-13 to 0-9) and Derry (4-13 to 1-10). Their final triumph against the latter was particularly impressive with Darragh Canavan (son of Tyrone great Peter) pulling the strings for the winners. Two goals in either half capped off a very impressive Tyrone win, but Cork won’t fear the northern men and they will take a lot of positives from the Munster final against Kerry.
‘Our tackle count and turnover count was phenomenal. There were four of five times we blocked shots down on goal. We moved the ball into the full-forward line very quickly and that helped us get the scores that we needed,’ O’Driscoll explained.
Cork’s second-half performance was ruthless as they outscored Kerry by 3-6 to 0-6.
‘Teams like Kerry have top-class forwards so you can’t give them a chance to get back in the game. We were four points up too at half time in the John Kerins Cup game against Kerry in Clonakilty and they came back that day, so we spoke about doing the right things at the right time.
‘We weren’t going to let them back into the game like we did in May. We started the second half strong and we drove on.’
The Cork U20s will have to drive on too against Tyrone on Sunday but there is a positivity around Cork football now that has been absent for several seasons. O’Driscoll can feel the difference.
‘The last time Cork beat Kerry in the football championship was when Cork won the Munster U21 back in 2016,’ he pointed out.
‘Cork football is definitely on the rise again and there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes. Then you have the likes of Conor Counihan involved now as well and the structure is improving. With Cork in the Super 8s and the minors still involved too, it’s all positive steps forward. Cork football is certainly not gone away.’
O’Driscoll is confident that Cork football can take another step forward this Sunday.