Kevin O’Driscoll signed off his managerial reign on a high note, as TOM LYONS explains
IT may have taken almost 130 years of hard endeavour but the Holy Grail of junior A football in West Cork is now resting in Kilmacabea after a campaign that will be forever remembered not only in the parish itself but all over West Cork.
Kilmacabea’s quest for their first-ever South West junior A football title had caught the imagination of the whole division in recent years, especially when they came so close but found it just outside their grasp.
When the great day finally dawned – Sunday, September 10th, 2017 – the celebrations knew no bounds.
It was a mixture of relief and great satisfaction when the Mick McCarthy Cup was handed over to captain Clive Sweetnam in Clonakilty that day but the happiest and most satisfied man of them all must have been team manager and coach, Kevin O’Driscoll.
‘Five years ago I took over the team,’ O’Driscoll explained.
‘We were at a pretty low ebb at the time and I suppose it was hard to see us winning our first title back then but we built up the panel, built the confidence of the players and it took off from there.
‘We targeted our league performances first, aiming at holding our own with the big teams like Caheragh, Bandon, St Colum’s. When we got to that stage, competing well with those teams, we began to set our sights on the championship.
‘We reached our first-ever final in 2015 against Bandon and we could have won that day. Bandon went on to win the county and we knew then that we had it in us to go all the way.’
Of course every road has its bumps and hollows and Kilmacabea had their ups and downs over the past few seasons. A semi-final defeat by Gabriel Rangers in 2016 was a real downer but again the realisation dawned how close they were when Gabriels went on to win the county.
‘That defeat was hard to take but again we were beaten by the eventual county champions,’ O’Driscoll said.
‘I honestly made the decision to step down at the end of last season – but the players asked me to stay on for a last go.
‘Kevin McCarthy did step down but we got James O’Donovan on board and Denis O’Driscoll stayed on. Then U21 manager, Noel McCarthy, came in after they had won a great West Cork final against Bandon and that provided a superb link with the younger players. They now knew they had an avenue open to the junior team.
‘It wasn’t easy to commit to another year but once we were in, it was full steam ahead.’
Training for the 2017 season began on November 4th, 2016 as the players, searching for an edge, wanted winter training. Donncha O’Brien from Drinagh came in to do strength and conditioning and he really varied things.
‘We had punch-bags, boxing, loads of fun and, as we have only one pitch here in Leap, we rented the astro-turf in Skibbereen two nights a week. The only slot open was from 9pm to 10pm but the lads didn’t mind. It really got the lads in the right frame of mind for the new campaign,’ O’Driscoll explained.
A few players came back into the fold as well. Joe Collins came back from Canada, Tim Donovan had been in Belgium and his brother Mícheál also returned, as did Diarmuid O’Callaghan from New Zealand. Add to that Damien Gore became eligible for the junior team.
The train was almost derailed in the very first round when Diarmuid Mathúnas took them to extra time in Clonakilty.
‘That certainly was an eye-opener for us,’ said O’Driscoll.
‘After that narrow escape the players weren’t going to take any team for granted. We were ready for the unexpected after that and just as well, too, because nobody expected that we would be facing Kilbrittain in the final. They gave us one hell of a battle and we had to dig deep to pull through. But our name was written on the cup for 2017 and it was an amazing feeling when that final whistle blew in Clon.’
Kilmacabea turned their attention to the county then but Erin’s Own got the better of the West Cork champions in a Cork JAFC semi-final replay, but then the Kilmacs added the Carbery-Beara league title to complete a championship and league double.
‘It didn’t quite happen for us against Erin’s Own in the replay,’ O’Driscoll admitted.
‘I knew we were tired that day, the long season caught up with us, nine championship games, and, I suppose, the emotions attached to winning that first-ever title were bound to take a toll. We were tired.’
So what lies in store for 2018 now that such a weight has been removed from the shoulders of the players?
‘Well, somebody else will be taking it on from here,’ said O’Driscoll, with a definite tinge of sadness in the voice.
‘I stepped down at the AGM, personal and family reasons.
‘The time has come to hand over the reins to some new mentors. The club was there before us and it will go on without us. The lads who come in will know they have the players to take the team to the next level.
‘The winning U21 players are backboning the team already and will only get bigger and better. The future is very bright.
‘It won’t be easy to win back-to-back titles here in Carbery as we will now have a target on our backs for all other teams. Caheragh, Colum’s young Bal and Kilmeen teams, Mathúna’s, Mary’s, they will all take a lot of beating again.
‘It’s been a great five years, tough work but worth it all.
‘There will never be another first in junior A football for Kilmacabea.’ So, as he turns his mind to family matters, having given his all for Kilmac’s cause during the past five years, and for many years before that as a player, Kevin O’Driscoll takes the gratitude and the admiration of all Kilmacabea supporters, who turned out in huge numbers all the year, with him into his GAA retirement.
Somehow, we have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more about this committed, dedicated and very popular Kilmacabea GAA man again in the not-too-distant future.