DYLAN O’Donovan is the aspiring pilot who feels the sky’s the limit for O’Donovan Rossa’s footballers.
He’s keeping his feet on the ground before the throw-in to the Rossas’ Cork Credit Unions Football League Division 2 campaign on Sunday, but is confident they can hit new heights this season.
Twice in the last three seasons the Skibbereen team has lost Cork Senior A Football Championship semi-finals (to Éire Óg in 2020 and St Michael’s in 2022), and Dylan says the groundwork for the championship can be laid in the upcoming county league.
‘You want to make winning a habit,’ the 23-year-old says.
‘The league is important to get back into the rhythm of games after a long winter off, and to get back on the pitch. In fairness, the league has always been important to us.
‘Last year we were looking for good performances, but this year we are aiming to win more games – and make winning a habit.
‘Here’s one example: last year in the league we played well against Douglas but we lost (3-11 to 2-10). In the dressing-room afterwards, we knew we had played well but it still hurt that we lost.’
In Group B of Division 1 last season Skibb won three but lost six of their nine games. This season they are intent on winning more games to build momentum and self-belief ahead of the championship. They will face two of their 2023 SAFC Group A opponents – Fermoy and Kanturk – in the league and, amongst others, Clonakilty, Newcestown and St Michael’s. These are just the tests this developing Skibb team needs, as manager Gene O’Donovan – Dylan’s dad – remains in the hot-seat.
There are no favours from his dad, defender Dylan is quick to point out.
‘A lot of people ask me about that,’ he says.
‘My father and myself would be very close, and have been for years. But when you step into that dressing-room or onto the pitch I am another player and he is the manager. I call him Geno, I don’t call him dad at training.’
Gene O’Donovan’s influence was felt in his first season in charge of Skibb and he wants to kick on this season. Losing the county semi-final to St Michael’s hurt last October, particularly when Skibb felt they didn’t do themselves justice. Continuity from last year is welcome, and the only change in the management team sees Andy Carr taking control of strength and conditioning. The return of Sean Fitzgerald is another boost, as Dylan and the Rossas look for lift-off.
These days Dylan works as a Technical Services Engineer at Eirtech Aviation Services in Limerick and the long-term goal is to become a pilot. Aviation is a passion of his.
‘It’s something I have always been interested in,’ he explains, ‘The old fella said when I was younger it was either airplanes or football!’
And now Dylan gets to juggle his two passions – football and aviation – just like he did when he was an aerospace engineering student at Carlow IT. He was part of the college’s football panel that lost the 2020 Sigerson Cup final to DCU, as the Skibb man took his first steps back into GAA following a horror injury the previous summer.
In July 2019, on his first day on holiday in Ios, a popular Greek island, Dylan fell and suffered a serious head injury.
‘It was scary at the time, to be honest,’ he recalls.
‘I had two hematomas in my brain, two bleeds.
‘It was something the doctors didn’t want to operate on, but I was told they might have to. Halfway through the week I had a bad turn, I was in severe pain, roaring with the pain. The doctors did a scan, and it turns out that was a turning point – the next morning the swelling had got to a point where it started to go down itself.’
Dylan spent two weeks in hospital in Greece and remembers one day turning to his mother, telling her what he wouldn’t do to have a coach roaring at him now, to tell him to do another lap.
‘Of course you take things for granted but when you get back at it, and you get a new lease of life, you realise what you want to do,’ Dylan says – and he wanted to play football. He has played with Rossas since he was six years old, was on the senior training panel when he was 16, and made his senior debut a year later.
Dylan was told he needed to stay away from football and contact sport for six months. In November 2019 he started to ease back into it with Carlow IT, to build up his fitness, and it didn’t take the O’Donovan Rossa footballer long to hit his stride again and show the form that had seen involved with Keith Ricken’s Cork U20 footballers before his accident.
‘I was training a couple of nights a week with Cork but things didn't go my way in Greece,’ he says.
‘I remember Keith gave me a number four jersey with all the players’ signatures on it from the Munster U20 final (Cork beat Kerry 3-16 to 0-12 at Páirc Uí Rinn), he said “that could have been your jersey”, but that’s how life goes.
‘You have times in life when it goes against you, but you just have to pick yourself up, brush yourself down and go again,’ he reflects, ‘And that is a mantra Skibb have really picked up in the last few years: look, some things haven't gone our way but we need to drive on and push forward.
‘We are knocking on the door and are there or thereabouts, but we want to get over the line.’
The drive for success starts this Sunday at home to Fermoy (12.30pm) as Dylan and Skibb stretch their legs in their opening game of the season.
It’s the chance to start the 2023 season on a winning note. It won’t all be plane sailing but the hope is Skibb’s footballers can spread their wings and fly.