IT didn’t take Donal Óg Hodnett long to show O’Donovan Rossa what they were missing.
He was only six minutes into his comeback game on July 25th against St Nick’s when he unleashed a rocket that shook the net – and sent the Skibbereen team on their way to an emphatic 4-22 to 1-5 victory in their opening Cork Senior A football championship group game.
That sunny Saturday in Innishannon against St Nick’s was Hodnett’s first competitive football match in 440 days, having ruptured his ACL in May 2019.
Naturally, he was nervous beforehand.
‘I was telling myself leading up to the game that I wouldn’t be thinking about the injury but it’s the only thing in your head, really, even in the warm-up,’ Hodnett said.
‘You always have that fear in the back of your head – will the knee hold up? You hear too that players pick up niggly, nasty hamstring injuries or that the other knee goes because of an imbalance.
‘As soon as the ball was thrown in I forgot about it and that helped. The game wasn’t the best standard but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing either, to slowly get back into it and to get the full 60 minutes behind me,’ added Hodnett, who finished with 2-1 and was back up and running.
His second game, three weeks later, was a bigger challenge than his comeback match. It was a nasty Saturday at Ballinacarriga, wet and wild, when Skibb took on a Béal Áthan Ghaorthaidh team desperate to win. Psychologically and physically, it was a test.
‘I was a lot more worried in the warm-up for that game than I was in the first game. Some parts of the pitch were hard like a summer surface and in other parts the ball wouldn’t bounce back up to you. But again the body held up fine and I was happy to get through it,’ Hodnett said.
And again, the former Cork footballer showed his worth to the Skibb team. After a quiet first half, he exploded into the second half and reeled off four points in a row from play to help secure a 0-17 to 1-10 win.
Hodnett also came through the epic win against St Michael’s on September 6th as Rossas topped their Cork SAFC group and went straight into the last four, earning an extra week off as they bypassed the quarter-finals.
‘I feel fresh and I’m ready to get going again after the break,’ Hodnett said, as preparations crank up ahead of their county semi-final against Éire Óg this Sunday. O’Donovan Rossa have arrived at this stage exactly how they wanted to. The target was to top the group and win an automatic semi-final spot, and they’ve done that. This Sunday is game four of what the club hopes will be their five-match campaign.
‘The mood is good. We don’t get to county semi-finals too often. We have been to two in my time playing senior with Skibb,’ the 28-year-old explained.
‘The young lads, especially, are really thriving on getting to their first semi-final. They are buzzing at training and that is driving everyone on.’
While Skibb have had that extra week’s rest, Éire Óg will be hopping off the ground after their statement semi-final win against St Michael’s. Skibb beat the Saints by 3-13 to 3-12. Then Éire Óg hammered St Michael’s by 3-12 to 0-4. That result caused heads to turn in Skibbereen.
‘That was surprising, I thought that would be a very tight game, won in the last 10 minutes, but it goes to show Éire Óg’s ability,’ Hodnett said.
‘St Michael’s scored 3-12 against us and held us to very little in the first half so for someone to really turn that on their head and keep them to 0-4 for the entire game, it shows their ability to defend because Michael’s had put up massive scores before that.
‘We are very aware of their firepower up front, with Daniel Goulding heading it up, so we know we need to curtail their attack as well. It’s a big challenge.’
In one sense, Éire Óg’s hammering of St Michael’s will help focus Skibbereen’s minds, especially given how close the recent Rossas v Michael’s group game was. That day Skibb slipped eight points down in the opening half before turning the game on its head in the second half, but Hodnett knows they need to play consistently across the full 60 minutes this weekend.
‘If we go eight points down against Éire Óg we will find it difficult to come back so we need to be on Grade-A form the moment the ball is thrown in,’ he said.
‘It needs to be 100 per cent focus and concentration, maybe that is where we slacked off in the St Michael’s game, that we left them in too easy and we know we need to do better against Éire Óg. We need to be at our very best and at least bring it to the last 10 minutes.’
Skibb have passed every test they’ve faced so far. They rolled over Nick’s, they survived a gut check against Ballingeary and then they showed character to come back and beat a good St Michael’s team. Now they need to rise to their biggest challenge yet.