BY KIERAN McCARTHY
IT was always in the back of Kevin O’Driscoll’s mind that this would be his last year with the Cork senior football panel.
The Tadhg MacCarthaigh clubman (32) had been involved with the Cork senior set-up since 2010 – but he feels the time is right to step back from the inter-county scene.
‘It was very much in the back of my mind to just give it one year,’ he told this week’s Star Sport Podcast.
‘I won’t say that I had my mind fully made up but I went into this season with the attitude that I would give it one last crack, give it everything I had for the year and see where it took me and where we could get to at the end of the season.’
It didn’t end the way O’Driscoll envisaged it would; his final appearance for the Rebels saw him come on as a second-half sub in Cork’s Munster SFC final hammering by Kerry last July. That was a low note to bow out on, but by then his mind was made up. He shared a moment with his wife, Aoife, on the pitch in Killarney after the loss. They both knew that was it, his time with Cork was up.
O’Driscoll has worked under four Cork managers – Conor Counihan, Brian Cuthbert, Peadar Healy and Ronan McCarthy – but new boss Keith Ricken won’t be added to that list. Ricken was named Cork manager in October, but O’Driscoll’s decision to step back was copper-fastened by then.
‘I really had my mind made up before they put the new management team in place,’ he explained.
‘At this stage I have worked with four different managers with Cork and each one of them was very different in how they approached it and how the set-up was.
‘In the position that Keith and the new management team are coming in, Cork football is at a low ebb and I am sure they wanted to freshen up the panel and put their own stamp on it – and that’s the way it’s turning out. That made my decision a bit easier when it transpired that’s the route they are going down, but I very much had my mind made up before any manager was put in place.’
O’Driscoll is an experienced campaigner who enjoyed the highs and endured the lows during his time with Cork. A 2009 All-Ireland U21 winner, the Caheragh man made his league debut in 2011 but had to wait until 2015 to make his championship debut. He pinpoints the drawn 2015 Munster final against Kerry in a heaving Fitzgerald Stadium as a personal highlight, even if the result didn’t fall the Rebels’ way. Playing in the Super 8s in 2019 is another highlight, as Cork went toe to toe in Croke Park with both Dublin and Tyrone. Beating Kerry in the 2020 Munster SFC semi-final was a moment to savour, too. They are the big games that stand out during a transitional period for Cork football – but while Ricken and the current panel will plot Cork’s return to the top table, O’Driscoll will watch on from the outside.
‘It was great while I was there and I enjoyed every minute of it. When you are in that Cork bubble and with an inter-county team, it really is all encompassing. It dictates everything that you do in your life, and I’m not saying that in a negative way. I just felt it was time to move on and focus on something else. I have that part of my life done and it’s on to the next part,’ O’Driscoll explained.
Given inter-county football has been part of his life for over a decade, he will have more time on his hands now than he is used to, but the Caheragh man likes to keep himself busy. The Chief Financial Operator at West Cork Distillers, he’s also in the process of building a house so his hands are already full. Part of his new plan is to enjoy life outside of football a bit more too, given how much time inter-county football demands.
‘In the last three or four years the time and commitment needed outside of training really ramped up,’ O’Driscoll explained.
‘A standard (inter-county) week would see a gym session on a Monday, a training session on a pitch in Cork somewhere on a Tuesday night, Wednesday would be a night off, Thursday would be a pitch session and Friday would be a gym session. Over the last few years Saturday was used as a mini-camp day, you’d have six or seven hours together in Cork and Sunday would be a day off.
‘Travelling up from West Cork made it that bit more difficult in that you have three hours in travelling on top of every session. Outside of these sessions, everything you do revolves around training and games. When you are not involved with the group you are probably doing a recovery session or food prep or video analysis of yourself in preparation for a group video analysis session. On a standard week you are talking about 30 or 40 hours between training and what you are doing outside of that, so you are talking about a second full-time job for amateur players on top of a day job.’
Another silver lining is that he can commit more to his club, Tadhg MacCarthaigh. He played a leading role in their Carbery JAFC title win this season and without inter-county demands O’Driscoll will now give all his football attention to his club.
‘That’s the thing I am really looking forward to,’ he said.
‘It is very difficult to win the West Cork, we got over the line this year and we are starting in a good place going into a new season. Just having that time to train with the lads week-in week-out, to be part of the league games and challenge games, that’s what I am looking forward to; to be able to give my last few good years to the club.’
Cork football’s loss will be Tadhg MacCarthaigh’s gain.