CONSTANT movement and an ability to shoot off both feet were among the things which helped to set Donncha O’Connor apart, according to former attacking partner Daniel Goulding.
The Ballydesmond native announced his inter-county football retirement in the wake of Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC round 4 defeat to Tyrone. He hangs up his boots with one All-Ireland medal, three Munster titles and three national league Division 1 wins – a considerable haul considering he was 25 when he made his championship debut in 2006.
During Cork’s purple period under Conor Counihan, O’Connor was a fixture in the full-forward line and Goulding, who saw him at close quarters so often, felt he possessed a range of attributes which helped him to prosper.
‘His movement was unreal,’ he says.
‘He was constantly moving, he’d go three or four times to get to where he wanted, and if a forward is always moving it’s very difficult for a defender.
‘He’s a very intelligent footballer, he knows how and where to create space and he’s very good off both feet, which can make you nearly impossible to mark.
‘Going back to when I’d first have come across him, back in around 2005 when we both came on to the panel, his movement was always good.
He’d always have been practising but definitely some of it was natural talent and that made him a real asset.’ And yet, despite him being such a talisman for Cork, he was never awarded with an All-Star, something Goulding finds hard to reconcile.
‘He didn’t get the credit he deserved,’ he says.
‘Back in 2007, he should definitely have got an All-Star, he was Cork’s best forward in the final by a mile.
‘I don’t think that, nationally, he got the respect or the recognition that he deserved. Maybe that’s because he was quiet with how he did his business and didn’t go about looking for publicity.
‘He never had any ego – you’d ask him how much he scored and he couldn’t tell you, whereas most forwards would know the exact figure, including frees.
‘He was always very sure of his own ability and that’s why he was able to get so many pressure kicks. I’d definitely rank him as one of the best forwards of the last 20 years.’
While the latter part of O’Connor’s Cork career was pock-marked with injury and the Rebels struggled, he couldn’t have any criticism levelled at him.
‘You look at the Mayo game last year,’ Goulding says, ‘he gave them the runaround for 40 minutes.
‘He didn’t get a lot of game-time for the last few years because of injury but he was always straight back to his best when he was fit, whereas someone else might need three or four games.
‘It shows just how focused he was.’
As to the future, Goulding would certainly like to see his colleague involved in Cork football.
‘He loves his coffee, so he’ll probably be spending a lot of time in Cork Coffee Roasters!’ he laughs.
‘Seriously though, he loves Cork football and I think he’d be a huge addition as he knows the game and understands it so well.
‘The way things are going, we could definitely do with him being involved in one of the critical grades.’
And of course, there was the mischievous nature too.
‘He’s a gas character,’ Goulding says.
‘I can recall one time there were a few of us swimming in the pool in the Silver Springs. Owen Sexton was there and he was always a fella who’d have been taking the mick, so Donncha decided to take all of his clothes and car keys, everything.
‘Sexton had to get a taxi home but then the next night at training Donncha comes in all paranoid, wondering if he knew it was him. Sexton was standing behind him though so he’d given the game away!’