MIKE O’Brien admits it was too good an opportunity to turn down. When the chance presented itself to manage his home club Castlehaven, he couldn’t say no.
O’Brien is no stranger to Castlehaven having come up through the West Cork club’s underage ranks before representing the famous blue and white hooped jerseys at senior level. As a selector, O’Brien was also part of a Castlehaven county-winning backroom team.
Most recently, the former Castlehaven player enjoyed a successful three-year tenure guiding Gabriel Rangers to the intermediate ranks via a divisional junior A final win (only their second) and a first-ever Cork junior A county football title success back in 2016.
‘I have been involved with Castlehaven GAA since I was a child,’ O’Brien told The Southern Star.
‘I played at every grade from underage up to senior winning a couple of senior county and Munster medals as well. Football-wise, most of my career was centred around Castlehaven and I moved into coaching once I had finished up playing. I was selector on the senior team a good few years ago now and involved in a county-winning set-up.’
The decision to leave a Gabriel Rangers squad that he helped emerge from the West Cork junior ranks and establish themselves as an intermediate club was not an easy one. Yet, after a successful three-year spell, O’Brien has left Gabriels in a much healthier position than he first found the Schull-Ballydehob club.
‘Of course it was very hard walking away from Gabriels considering the great relationship I built up with the players and all of the people there,’ O’Brien admitted.
‘We came from nowhere to win a county championship and that will never be forgotten there. I believe three years is enough for any management cycle though and that it is time to freshen things up at that stage. Players get used to the same voice and they need to experience a new set-up too.
‘It was time for me to take a break anyway, freshen things up and try something new. I have already said that I may go back there (Gabriel Rangers) again some day.’
The allure of taking over his hometown club was too tempting an offer to turn down and Mike O’Brien accepted an opportunity to oversee the Union Hall-Castletownshend’s seniors for the upcoming campaign.
Castlehaven enjoyed a terrific run in last year’s county championship under the guidance of Liam Collins. Overcoming Dohenys and CIT (after a two-game marathon), the Haven’ swept aside Nemo Rangers in the last eight. Those victories preceded a three-game epic with Duhallow in the semi-finals with the West Cork side bowing out 3-13 to 0-16 after two draws.
There is plenty of raw material for O’Brien to work with including established inter-county players like Mark Collins, Damien Cahalane and Brian Hurley. But it’s the emerging talent coming through Castlehaven’s U16, minor and U21 ranks is what excites the incoming manager the most.
‘The most important thing for me will be to try and get across how I want to play to the players and give them plenty of confidence,’ Castlehaven’s new manager said.
‘I want fellas to work hard but with a smile on their face and to enjoy their football. It is a new set-up for them but the desire, hunger and drive is already there. A fresh impetus and some new ideas should help the players improve and we will take things from there.
‘There is a good balance to the squad and a lot of good lads coming through who got championship experience last year. They should be able to step things up again this year and, as I said, have a good squad to work with.’
Castlehaven will enter this year’s Cork SFC with a new manager at the helm but one with experience of improving his previous club’s players and most importantly of all, delivering silverware.