DANIEL Hazel feels that O’Donovan Rossa have learned lessons from their 2020 county Senior A football campaign that ended at the semi-final stage – but the Skibb side won’t know for sure if they have improved until they are tested in this year’s championship.
The Skibbereen team impressed for most of last season’s SAFC campaign, winning all three games in their group, but then they hit a wall when they took on Éire Óg in the county semi-final.
The Mid Cork side stopped the Skibb juggernaut with a 2-10 to 1-8 win. Éire Óg since went on to win the county title and will campaign at Premier senior grade this weekend. That’s the level that O’Donovan Rossa want to reach, too, but they know they’ve work to do to get there – and it starts with a Senior A FC derby against Bandon in Ballinascarthy this Saturday evening (6pm).
‘On the large, last year was a positive year, a lot of things worked and a lot of things we did, we did really well,’ experienced Rossa stalwart Hazel told this week’s Star Sport Podcast.
‘I have seen a massive improvement over the last couple of years, we are on an upward trajectory and we want to continue that this year, but let’s be honest we still would have analysed last year and said it was a disappointment.
‘We went out with the goal of at least reaching the county final and then let the chips fall as they may.
‘Look at how the championships unfolded then, we lost to Éire Óg who then went on and beat Mallow so we were very close to where we wanted to be, but still not where we wanted to be.
‘There are a lot of things for us still to work on from last year. It’s difficult to know how we have progressed from last year until you get into the heat of championship, until you see the white-hot heat of battle. We’ll be able to take full stock of our progress from last year to this year on Saturday night.
‘We’ve done a lot of hard work and I’m fully confident that we are in a good place, but we are not able to see the progress that we made last year until this weekend.’
It’s the battle of two big town teams, Skibbereen and Bandon, in Bal, and the former will be favourites to win. How the Rossas handle this tag will be telling, but last year showed this Skibb team is maturing and coping with pressure better than in previous years. That’s an important step forward in this group’s development.
‘Where we have fallen down in the past is when we have underestimated teams and then we go out and get absolutely hockeyed. That’s certainly one thing we are not going to fall foul of this week. Whatever happens on Saturday we will not underestimate the challenge that Bandon will bring,’ Hazel explains, and as one of the more experienced players in the set-up he knows too how important it is for Skibb to reach the Premier senior grade – that’s the goal. The good news is that Hazel is as excited as ever for this season’s championship, as games against Bandon, Dohenys and Ballingeary all loom large in the group stage.
‘As you get older you start thinking more and more about the demands football makes on your life. Let’s not kid anybody, we are amateur players but it still demands a lot of attention, it demands a lot of discipline and it demands a lot of hard work to get yourself into a position where you can perform for your team – and that’s what it’s all about,’ Hazel says.
‘You weigh up the pros and the cons each year, little knocks your body might have, you might be in a certain place with work, you might have a girlfriend; these type of things. But really, when it all comes down to it, in my opinion it pales against the feeling you get when you play championship for your home club.
‘I am immensely proud any time I can go out and play for Skibb with my Skibb jersey on. The couple of hours beforehand, I would have butterflies and anticipation the same way now that I would have had ten years ago. I probably would have been more nervous when I was younger because you were going out to try and prove things, but I am a bit more confident in myself now.
‘Those days when you get through a really tough championship game, there is nothing like it. Going back to last year we scraped through a couple of tough games and they are some of the best wins I have had in my career. People would think that would diminish as you get older, but if anything it gets better because at this stage – and it’s the same for players like Ryan, Donal Óg, Kevin, Mark – some of us have put ten-plus years in so we understand the hard work it takes to get to this point. If anything it means more now.’
That journey starts again this Saturday. If lessons are learned from 2020, Hazel is confident Skibb will go deep into this championship.