There is life after inter-county. Colm O’Driscoll is proof. Released from the Cork panel last October, the Caheragh man has enjoyed a fine summer of football. KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with him to find a man who has adjusted well to life outside the inter-county bubble
IT’S hardly coincidence that Colm O’Driscoll is playing his best football in years with Tadhg MacCarthaigh in his first season back fully immersed in the club scene.
There is life after inter-county. He’s seen it himself. He’s enjoying it, too.
It’s almost 12 months since he was told he was surplus to requirements with the Cork seniors. It was a shock to the system. It took time to adjust. But Cork’s loss was Caheragh’s gain.
He’s kicked 3-19 in Caheragh’s run to Sunday evening’s Carbery final.
‘Bar the last game against Bal, I think I’m playing better this year than I have in a couple of years,’ he says.
Anyone who has followed Caheragh’s progress through the championship will agree. He hit 2-4 against Clann na nGael, 1-3 against St Mary’s, he’s averaging six points per game.
O’Driscoll’s happy with football and life. That’s showing on the pitch.
‘I think I’m enjoying it more, to be honest,’ he admits.
‘Don’t get me wrong, I miss the inter-county and I’d still love to be playing – but that’s not the way it has worked out.
‘I decided then to focus my attention on Caheragh and give everything back to the club. I wouldn’t have as much training done compared to when I was with Cork – but I feel I’m fresher and enjoying football more.
‘Not being involved at county level gives you a chance to do other things that you mightn’t have been able to get at over the last three or four years – you can get away for a weekend or if you miss a Friday night’s training it’s not the end of the world.
‘I was 30 in June and I’ve found that if you come away from the inter-county scene, that’s when you see the other stuff in life – there’s family, partners, girlfriends. You can enjoy the other parts of life.’
During this past year his eyes have been opened to the great big world outside of the inter-county bubble. It exists. It’s full of opportunities. It’s fun.
‘The whole lifestyle in general is nicer,’ he explains.
‘You can go out for a meal, have a glass of wine or have one or two pints, and there is no fella looking over your shoulder and you’re not worried about it.
‘For some reason, and I’ve talked to fellas in different counties too, and they feel that they can’t budge. If a fella is seen eating a bag of crisps, it’s like the end of the world. That shouldn’t be the case at all. Football is to be enjoyed. If fellas loosen up a little they could actually play better.’
O’Driscoll believes more and more inter-county players are opening their eyes to life outside that bubble,
‘Personally I think that’s one of the reasons that fellas are shortening their inter-county careers. It’s nothing to do with the demands of the game – but it’s actually the demands of everything in together,’ he explains.
‘Look at the time you have to put into it, you’re talking a lot of weekends and probably three of the five nights a week, and on the other nights you could be gone for a swim or working on your skills. It’s professional without being paid.
‘I think fellas will give it three or four years – and that’s it. Unless you’re successful. If you are in with one of the top two or three teams and challenging for honours, and you’re winning provincial titles, it’s easier. But when you are climbing the ladder, it’s hard to ask fellas to give up five of the seven days a week.
‘Your work life, your personal life, your club, everything is put on hold – and that’s hard and demanding when you’re not getting the rewards. That’s why fellas are stepping away younger and younger.’
O’Driscoll will admit he had the decision made for him when Cork decided to follow a different direction, ending a relationship that lasted four years, but his eyes were opened. He’s played county league games on Sunday mornings that he wouldn’t have before. He makes almost every Caheragh training session. He’s had weekends away, whether it’s popping over to Killarney or heading to the Kenmare Fair. Life’s still busy – and that’s what helped his transition initially after inter-county – but now he has time.
He works as a driver with South of Ireland Petroleum, he also runs a gym that’s in the process of moving from Drimoleague to Skibbereen and setting up in O’Donovan Rossa’s GAA pavilion (classes to start in mid-September), he helps teams with strength and conditioning, and then there’s life outside of that, and football.
‘It was hard for a while after what happened,’ O’Driscoll says of his adjustment to not being involved at inter-county.
‘What saved me is that I’ve always had too much stuff going on. I was training different teams, looking after classes, working my job during the day, and since I have come out of the inter-county it has freed up a few nights. Everything has fallen into place. If I didn’t have all that going on I would have found it hard to adjust because there would have been a big hole there.
‘It probably didn’t hit me until the league started. The training was fine because I was training with Caheragh and doing my own training, but when the boys are sitting into the bus to head to a game, you think that you’re not in that anymore and that you would have been on that bus. That’s hard to adjust to.’
But Caheragh football has kept him busy this summer. After a setback in round one against Carbery Rangers, they’ve beaten Clann na nGael, St Mary’s, Kilmeen and Ballinascarthy to set up a final showdown with champions Kilmacabea this Sunday.
‘Leap will be favourites and deservedly so,’ he admits.
‘They are a couple of years ahead of us. They did three or four years ago what we are doing now, they brought young fellas through and they’re seeing the benefits of that. We’re doing the same thing but it takes times.
‘Who is the favourite on Sunday doesn’t matter to us, we will go out nice and relaxed, give it everything. If we are good enough on the day then great. If not, it’s a learning curve for everybody.’
O’Driscoll has touched on the youth factor with Caheragh, the club giving several of its U21s their wings this season and the results have been pleasantly surprising. ‘We are ahead of schedule, to be honest,’ he says.
‘We spoke at the start of the year about bringing younger fellas through and giving them time to adjust, and if you said then that we’d be a in a West Cork final, we’d have said you’re being ambitious.
‘We have a few good young fellas coming through but it’s unfair to expect them to step up and make a difference straightaway. In fairness, they have made a difference to us, they’ve freshened us up and put life back into us, but it’s a work in progress for everybody.
‘The four or five of us that are around the 30 mark are probably the oldest guys, and believe it or not, we’re trying to adjust to having a whole load of young fellas in the dressing-room who are pushing us to the pin of our collar. We’re there to encourage them and help them.’
He’ll use all his experience this Sunday against Kilmacabea in the hope it will help Caheragh over the line. That’s where all his football focus lies now: with his club. He was due to fly out to Lanzarote with his girlfriend this Saturday but then a surprise Carbery final appearance came along, so that’s been shifted back until October. There’s no way he could miss Caheragh’s first JAFC final since 2013, not when he’s enjoying his football so much.