O’DONOVAN Rossa face an intense start to their season with six games in six weeks – but that’s exactly the challenge they want, says selector Shane Crowley.
The Skibbereen team kicks into action against Mallow on Monday in Division 2A of the new League Cup competitions that will take the place of the county leagues this year, and there’s no let-up in matches in the weeks after.
They have also entered this season’s Tom Creedon Cup so between that competition and the League Cup, Skibb will be in action for six weeks in a row.
Drawn in Group 2A along with 2020 Cork Senior A FC finalists Mallow and the Premier senior duo of Castlehaven and Valley Rovers, they will be three tough tests, but that’s just what Skibb want.
Last season they got to the semi-finals of the Cork SAFC, before losing to Éire Óg (2-10 to 1-8). It’s a championship Skibbereen feel they can win so more matches against quality opposition will have them battle-ready for later in the summer.
‘We want to pick up from where we left off last year,’ selector Shane Crowley explains.
‘We built up a good head of steam in the championship last year but the Éire Óg game was a major disappointment so we want to build momentum again, take what we can from the Éire Óg game and learn from that.
‘We have Mallow first in the league, then Castlehaven and Valley Rovers, and they are three big games. Mallow are in a county final and that’s a place where we want to be. Then we have Castlehaven and Valley Rovers who are playing in the grade that we want to get to. They are three matches that we want to get performances out of but also give a few young fellas a game.
‘That’s why we entered the Tom Creedon Cup as well because we want those extra games, and from June 7th we have six games in six weeks.’
In the Tom Creedon Cup – organised by Macroom GAA Club – O’Donovan Rossa are in a group with another Premier senior side, Carbery Rangers, as well as Knocknagree and Castletownbere.
‘We felt that last year between the group stage and the Senior A semi-final that we had four weeks without any game, and I don’t think that did us any good,’ Crowley explains.
‘We want more games this year and we felt that the Tom Creedon Cup was a great one to enter. We want to challenge ourselves against teams like Mallow, Castlehaven, Valley Rovers and Carbery Rangers. Whatever way the games pan out we want to learn as much as we can, to see how much we have improved or where we have to work on.
‘We have had a lot of young players come through over the last few years and we want to give them a challenge, and nothing better than a league game against Castlehaven to test them.’
The plan is that when the 2021 Cork Senior A championship thunders into action later this summer, O’Donovan Rossa will be primed and ready to uncoil.
They impressed in the group stages last season and topped their group, but came up short against Éire Óg in the semi-final in Clonakilty. That disappointment lingered because the Skibbereen side knows they didn’t find their rhythm that day.
‘Everyone was disappointed with how it finished,’ Crowley admits.
‘When we look back at the Éire Óg game we know that we left a lot of scores behind us and that we didn’t play as well as we can. It left us with a lot of questions that we need to find answers to.
‘We felt we made the right decisions when we had the ball against St Michael’s in the group stage and took our chances, but why didn’t we make the right choices in a knock-out game? It’s an experience we’ll learn from and we will, but we need to show it now.’
The return of Mark Collins from America in the next few weeks is a big boost, while the experienced core of Ryan Price, Donal Óg Hodnett, Paudie Crowley, David Shannon, Daniel Hazel, Thomas Hegarty and Kevin Davis will all lead the way again this season.
Then there are the young guns who are learning and improving each season – that’s the crew of Dylan Hourihane, Rory Byrne, Darren Daly, Elliot Connolly, Eoin Fitzgerald, Sean Fitzgerald and Shane O’Driscoll.
‘We know that we have a team capable of winning the Senior A and that adds a competitive edge. It’s a positive pressure because this is a grade that we know we are good enough to win and we are challenging ourselves to go out and win it. It’s a very competitive grade.’
On Mark Collins’ return, Crowley adds: ‘Mark is coming back from the States in the next few weeks and he will be a massive addition to us. We missed him last year.’
In the 2021 Cork SAFC, O’Donovan Rossa have been drawn in Group A alongside Bandon, Dohenys and Beál Áthan Ghaorthaidh.
The plan for Skibb is to reach those games with a better understanding of where they stand and with a team equipped to challenge. That journey starts at home to Mallow on Monday.