KIERAN McCARTHY chats to midfielder Daniel O’Donovan about his decision to return home to where it all started
IT was a thought that Daniel O’Donovan always had in the back of his mind.
But he didn’t know would it stay there. Or become reality.
He wanted to play for his home club Kilmacabea again, but he was living and working in the city and lining out with Bishopstown.
Then the pieces fell into place.
Himself and his partner Deirdre decided to build a house in Dunmanway. They moved in late last year. That opened the door for a return to Kilmacabea.
He knocked. They answered. And it’s worked out well for all involved.
‘I certainly didn’t envisage being in a county final at the start of the year when I started training with the lads,’ the 31-year-old says.
‘The thought of playing with Kilmacabea again had crossed my mind. We were living in the city for a long time and we didn’t know whether we wanted to come back and live in West Cork or if we were going to stay in the city long-term.
‘We ended up building a house in Dunmanway and things just fell into place. We moved down and the logical thing to do was go back home and play with the lads I started out playing with, fellas I went to school with.
‘I’m not getting any younger so it’s nice to give back a few years to the club.’
Leaving Bishopstown after seven years wasn’t a hard decision. He had good times there, reached two county senior football semi-finals, but swapping senior football for junior didn’t bother him.
‘I just want to continue to play football for another couple of years, and enjoy it too.’
He’s definitely enjoying it this season.
In his nine championship games, from Carbery through to county, he has racked up 1-37, 1-30 of that from placed balls, and he has been a big addition to Kilmacabea’s midfield, both in terms of experience and ability.
‘There aren’t too many players that have the left leg or the kicking ability that he has,’ captain Niall Hayes says.
‘If you watch any of our games, he can score from inside or outside the 45.
‘He has a strong, physical presence around midfield, he reads the game well, he can break up play. He’s been a massive addition.’
Manager Noel McCarthy likens his role to that of a quarter-back, supplying the inside line of Damien Gore, Ian Jennings and Richie O’Sullivan with quality ball.
‘His first instinct is to go forward, he looks for the inside forward line. When you give them fast ball, it’s very hard to stop them – that’s down to Daniel’s passing,’ McCarthy says.
‘When you need to slow things down he has a great head to do that, and when you need to move the ball he can do that too.’
Off the field, he’s a leader too. He says what has to be said. And he leads by example.
Kilmacabea have been impressed by their returning son, but the feeling is mutual. O’Donovan – a Garda based in Togher – might be coming from a senior club but he’s surrounded by quality.
‘Jesus, you have to be impressed by this team,’ he said.
‘I have seen them playing over the years and I’ve watched these lads coming through. I knew they were good and when you see them up close and train with them, you see just how good they are.
‘This is a strong team. Joseph and Martin Collins would start on a lot of senior teams in the county. That’s the quality this team has. Then you have young Ian Jennings who is a big addition this year and he’s only 18., You’ve Damien Gore, Richie O’Sullivan, and then in the back Donncha (McCarthy) and Clive (Sweetnam) have been around for a while. There is a good balance to the team.’
O’Donovan’s initial challenge when he re-joined the set-up was trying to earn his own place on the team.
‘I was hoping that I could contribute something,’ he says.
‘What that was, I didn’t know.
‘First of all, I wanted to make my way onto the team and take it from there. I didn’t envisage it planning out the way it did.
‘A lot of the work was done by the current management and the previous management long before I came back. They brought up good players through the ranks and it’s coming to fruition now.
‘These lads have been on a serious run. If you look back to 2015, they lost to a very good Bandon team in the West Cork final, in 2016 they narrowly missed out to Gabriels, and then last season they won the West Cork for the first time and went on a county semi-final.
‘The players are there, they had a lot of work done before I arrived.’
O’Donovan’s addition has added another piece that was missing from the jigsaw.
His first championship game back saw him score 1-5 in the round one Carbery win against Kilbrittain. His influence on the team has grown since. They’ve improved too as their season has built up to this point – Saturday night’s county final against Dromtarriffe at Páirc Uí Rinn, and there’s more to come.
‘I’d like to think we can play better,’ he says.
‘Over the course of the nine games we have played to date, we can’t say that we’ve played for a full 60 minutes yet. We’ve had moments in matches where we have been outstanding and gone on a run but then we slack off a bit maybe.
‘We certainly feel there is a lot more in us. If we can throw 55, 60 minutes together, we can reach new heights.’
They’ll have to against Dromtarriffe.
‘They’re a good team from a strong division in Duhallow. The county winners came from there last season and they went on to win the All-Ireland title,’ he said.
‘Boherbue were a strong team and we needed a replay to beat them, and Dromtarriffe beat an Iveleary team that were favourites to win the county.’
But Kilmacabea are confident that they have what it takes to take home the top prize on Saturday night.
O’Donovan will be key to any success.
His two biggest fans, his kids Leah (4) and Daire (1), will be there to cheer their dad on. And it would crown a dream comeback that has already seen him win his first Carbery JAFC medal.
‘We are playing week on week now, and the momentum has carried us over the last few games, we’re improving, and hopefully we can finish the job,’ he says.
Kilmacabea will be hoping that O’Donovan’s long left leg of the law can reproduce what he’s been doing all year. Do that, and they have a real chance of glory.