KIERAN McCARTHY takes a closer look at Kilmacabea’s prized asset
ON the Monday night before last year’s Munster MFC final between Cork and Kerry, the name of Kilmacabea’s Damien Gore popped up on Radio Kerry’s wide-reaching Terrace Talk sports programme.
He’s one to watch, a danger man, said Sylvester Hennessey, a contributor to the show and a GAA reporter with The Kerry’s Eye.
Whispers had been heard across the county bounds of this West Cork teenager who has been on the local radar since he first picked up a ball and spent his evenings after school kicking it at home in Aughatubber, Glandore with his late granduncle Tim John O’Donoghue, a man who would walk ten feet tall now if he was around.
Now, Leap’s best-kept secret was out.
Gore racked up the points in last year’s Munster MFC – he hit eight against Tipperary (five from frees), seven points (five from frees) against Limerick and his four points from frees in the provincial final kept Cork in touch before Kerry ultimately won, and he followed up with four (three frees) against Donegal in an All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park.
A year older and wiser this season, natural born forward Gore was to the fore for the Cork minors again last week when they opened their 2017 Munster MFC with a 3-21 to 1-8 quarter-final hammering of Tipperary, the West Cork teen finishing with 1-5.
As much as Kilmacabea have been protective of their prized jewel in recent seasons, his profile outside of his town-land has been constantly increasing, and this is a big year for Gore as he steps into adult football for the first time.
Rule changes mean that he can’t play adult football until championship so his first introduction is likely to be the South West JAFC round one game between Kilmacabea and Diarmuid Ó Mathúnas this Sunday in Clonakilty, at 2.15pm, if he’s picked to start.
That’s not ideal, says Leap junior boss Kevin O’Driscoll, who is looking forward to the extra firepower.
‘We haven’t been able to blood him during a league game, to give him 20 minutes, so he’s after no league or challenge games – but he’s trained away well and he’ll adapt quickly,’ he said.
‘Damien’s a massive addition to our junior A squad because he’s a scoring forward; that’s what we need. The West Cork championship is traditionally very tight, games can be won and lost by a point, so to add in a scoring forward strengthens us.’
As prolific as Gore has been all the way up, expectations need to be tailored when the Mount St Michael Leaving Cert student steps into the world of junior football against hardened clubmen. He’ll be a target so he needs time to adjust and learn.
‘Don’t worry, he can win his own ball, too. Against Bandon in the U21 final there were two fellas on him, but he won the ball every time it came in,’ added O’Driscoll, highlighting Kilmacabea’s recent South West U21 B FC success as the latest evidence that the red-haired and light-framed Gore is a little bit special.
In three championship games, he kicked 1-31, there were 11 points in the final against Bandon, 13 points against Kilbrittain and 1-7 against Ballinascarthy.
Those scoring figures are nothing new to those who have followed Gore’s rise through the ranks.
‘He has been on the radar since he was eight years old, a class act,’ O’Driscoll noted, with Kilmacabea underage secretary Michael Tobin adding, ‘he was constantly kicking a ball around, always practicing.’
That’s where Tim John O’Donoghue, Damien’s granduncle who lived next door to him, comes in. He used to collect Damien from school and neighbours say you’d hear the ball pumping off the wall for the evening, the two of them outside in the garden for hours kicking the ball.
‘Tim John helped him an awful lot and if he was alive now he’d be bursting with pride,’ Kevin O’Driscoll said.
And whether it was Sciath na Scol with Glandore NS, with the Cork primary schools’ team at half-time in the Cork v Kerry 2011 Munster SFC final, or underage teams with Leap, classy Gore always stood out.
When he was 11 years old he was one of the leading lights and top forwards on the Kilmacabea U14 team that competed in the Féile Peil in Derry, scoring a solo goal that Kevin O’Driscoll still regards as one of the best he has seen.
‘He cut in from the end line, took on and beat two or three of them, and there was the width of a ball between the goalkeeper and the post, and he just put it in there,’ O’Driscoll recalled.
The son of Michael and Geraldine – and one of four children, Lisa is older, Adrian and Padraig both younger – Damien has been free-scoring all the way up. He has the skill-set, he’s very accurate, comfortable off both left and right, both free-taking and from play, a real point scorer that you want close to goal, and his speed and footwork come into their own in tight spaces.
He leaves defenders with twisted blood, we were told, and the only way to stop him is to foul him – but it’s a classic Catch 22 because he’s lethal from frees, too.
Add it all together and Gore’s a finisher.
‘He’s pure driven, he wants to be the best, he works hard, he has a great work ethic,’ O’Driscoll added.
He’s about to take a big Leap this year into junior football but this Cork minor has all the attributes to continue on an upward curve, with club and county.
How apt it is, too, that a teenager with the name Gore leaves defenders with such nightmares.