DONAL Óg Hodnett is proof that there is life outside the inter-county bubble.
April is only days old but already he has more games played this year than in the entire 2017 campaign when he was involved on the extended Cork senior panel.
He’s not stuck in limbo anymore.
Life as sub on the inter-county scene is a tough existence, the O’Donovan Rossa captain explains.
‘If the county management selects you, it’s a great honour to be in there, but if like me for the last four years, if you’re caught in an extended panel position, it’s not a great place to be,’ Hodnett admits.
‘You’re not getting game time, you’re match fitness suffers and for the few championship games that you’re back at your club there’s the possibility that you’re not as fit as some of the lads in the club who are after plenty of games.
‘If you’re on the bench for a national league game and don’t get any game-time, you’re not with your club who could be playing a game too, so you’re caught in limbo.
‘I’m after five league games and a few challenges and it’s the start of April, that’s more than the same amount of football that I had last year. I have no complaints at the moment.’
For one reason or another, Hodnett never made a real lasting impact at senior level with Cork despite encouraging signs in his breakthrough season of 2014, and he was in and out of the panel for the past few years – but this season there’s no Cork distraction and it’s all about O’Donovan Rossa.
‘That’s the big positive now, that I am back at home playing with my club, with my friends and family,’ he says.
‘I’m fit, I’m injury-free and I’m playing as many game as I possibly can, which is what every footballer wants to do.
‘I’m thoroughly enjoying the club scene and it’s my only focus right now.’
The Skibbereen club will certainly gain from having Hodnett on board throughout the season, especially as they look to get the horrors of their disastrous 2017 SFC campaign out of their system.
Three defeats in three games – against Nemo, Clyda Rovers and Clonakilty – means Skibb need to win a game this year and next year to avoid relegation from the senior ranks.
That’s why the game against Aghada in round one of the Cork SFC will take on more importance than normal.
‘That (relegation) would always be in the back of the minds of the management, I’d say, but the message we are sending out to the squad is that we have a great opportunity in the first round, even though it’s a tough tie,’ explained Hodnett, who succeeds Sean Carmody as captain.
‘As players we aren’t thinking about relegation or any relegation battles, our county final is against Aghada this weekend and we have focussed all our preparations on that.’
As well as a new captain in Hodnett, Skibb also have a new management team with Martin Bohane in the hot-seat, supported by Don Davis, Diarmuid Lucey and Niall McCarthy Snr as selectors, after Ned English’s reign lasted one season.
It’s fair to say that the English experiment didn’t work for Skibb, the team never looked comfortable implementing his style and ideas – but Hodnett says they learned a lot last year.
‘We definitely underachieved last season,’ he admits.
‘Judging by results, people might think that we weren’t accustomed to Ned English’s style but towards the end of the year when we had to win a couple of tough games in the league against Castlehaven and Ilen Rovers, Ned was still involved.
‘It was a lot of Ned’s play that got us through those games but it just didn’t click for us in the championship.
‘Thinking back to Ned’s vision of how he wanted us to play, we weren’t supposed to be as defensive as we looked on certain days.
‘I think we fell back into a shell if we were in a losing position, or if we went up a few points we’d fall back and defend in numbers.
‘Ned knew the type of players we have and we did try to play as offensively as possible – but it just didn’t click.’
With an influx of young players involved in Rossas’ U21 team that is through to the South West U21B FC final against Bandon, Hodnett feels they have more options this season and the squad had deepened, and they need to transfer the positivity from a half decent start to the Kelleher Shield to the championship this weekend.
Five points from five games see Skibb in fourth place in Division 1 of the county football league – but it’s all about the championship this weekend, and getting that win the club needs.