DANIEL Hazel insists that no-one in the O’Donovan Rossa camp is getting carried away by their 100 per cent start to their Cork Senior A football championship campaign.
Ahead of their top-of-the-table Group A clash with St Michael’s in Enniskeane this Sunday (4pm), both teams are already through to the knock-out stages, but there’s still an edge to this game – the winner looks certain to take one of the two semi-final spots up for grabs for the best group winners.
The fastest route to the business end is the preferred route, explains experienced Skibb defender Hazel.
‘It’s great that we are in a quarter-final already but we want to win and go straight to a semi-final. We are treating this like a knock-out game,’ he says.
‘A big bonus of going straight to the semi-final is that you bypass the quarter-finals and get an extra week’s break – that would be massive and let fellas’ bodies recover. That’s very important because there is, potentially, a lot of games in a short period coming up.’
A third group win in a row for Skibb would also be a psychological boost for the team, coming off the back of a few seasons in the previous senior football championship where they lost more games than they won. It’s that run of form that led to the Rossas being re-graded to Senior A this season but the big silver lining is that it has given this team a more realistic chance of going on a winning run. That’s what has happened so far as they hammered St Nick’s by hitting 4-22 and then came through a gut check against Beál Athán Ghaorthaidh. Two games, two very different wins.
‘What I would say about this year and last year is that football has been really, really enjoyable,’ Hazel says.
‘In the last four or five years we have been unlucky with the draws, gone up against some of the big boys and they gave us a trimming and that’s not enjoyable. But when you get a few wins under you belt, that’s when you start improving because you can build on the last one, take the learnings from the game and hopefully improve in the next one. We have that opportunity to do that this year.’
That means too that winning becomes a habit and that hasn’t been the case with Skibb in recent seasons. It’s all part of this team’s development, Hazel explains, and that’s why Sunday’s game against St Michael’s is important.
‘It’s pointing in the right direction and it’s trending in the right way but one thing I would say is that doesn’t matter on Sunday,’ he says.
‘We have often gone into games before where we think we are favourites, or the dangerous thing that happens in Skibb is that you might walk down the street and meet four or five people who say that “you’ll win that game handy next week”, and then we go and capitulate. I’ve seen that happen a few times in the last four or five years, where we go in as favourites but get beaten out the gate. This Sunday is a dangerous game and we are not taking it lightly, Michael’s are a serious team and we need to be focussed for it.’
The 0-17 to 1-10 win against Ballingeary last time out is an example of a game that Skibb could have lost in the past. Ballingeary drew level in the second half, had the momentum, but it was the West Cork men that pushed on and won.
‘I’m delighted we came through that game because in years gone by that’s the exact type of game where there is an expectation on our shoulders, “oh, ye should be winning that”, and they are the games that we lost. In the past, in those tough, gritty games where we needed to grind out a win, we’ve wilted,’ he says.
‘That’s why it’s important to win games and it’s important for the young fellas, or fellas who have been on board since 2016, to experience that. It’s not our team anymore, and when I say our I mean Pricey (Ryan Price), Donie (Donal Óg Hodnett), myself; this is Sean Fitzgerald, Rory Byrne, Dylan Hourihane, this is their team now and we are only just caretakers. They are the guys driving this on and they really drove it on against Ballingeary, Rory was class in midfield, Dylan kicked six points.’
It’s on to game three now, the next step in this team’s development.