KEVIN O’Driscoll couldn’t say no.
After last year’s South West JAFC semi-final defeat to Gabriel Rangers, the Kilmacabea boss had made up his mind to pack it in.
He had four years done as manager and felt it was time to walk away, for a new voice to lead this team.
But then a number of Leap’s senior players approached him, asked him to stay on.
‘I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t walk away then,’ he admitted.
‘The senior players came to me and asked me would I give it another year. They felt they were there or thereabouts and they were bitterly disappointed with how the semi-final ended last year against Gabriels.
‘They have too much put in the last few years for me to walk away.
‘James O’Donovan came to me, too. He asked me to stay on and said that he would get involved. He had been working in Cork but is in Skibbereen now, he wanted to give something back to the club and he got involved as the forwards coach. He is a past player and Ger O’Donovan’s older brother. James saw that the team needed a couple of tweaks to get over the line; he’s a massive addition.
‘Denis O’Driscoll is involved again and Noel McCarthy, the U21 manager and coach, got involved after the U21s won the West Cork.
‘When the lads asked me to stay on, I couldn’t say no.
‘Hopefully we can finish the job now.’
A team meeting was held. The past was put behind. Everyone looked to 2017. This could be their year. They knew they weren’t far away.
Kilmacabea lost the 2015 final to Bandon, that was the club’s first-ever South West JAFC final appearance. They came up short in the 2016 semi-final to Gabriel Rangers.
Both Bandon and Gabriels went on to win Cork JAFC titles and Kilmacabea weren’t far behind them.
‘We started back training on November 4th last year,’ O’Driscoll explained.
‘The players took charge, they wanted a strength and conditioning programme over the winter months and we did that.
‘The harder you train the harder it is to give up.’
And O’Driscoll is adamant that Kilmacabea have done everything possible ahead of Sunday’s decider against Kilbrittain.
They’ve beaten Mathúnas, O’Donovan Rossa, Ballinascarthy and St Oliver Plunkett’s, they’re getting better and there’s more to come. Leap haven’t hit top speed yet, he warned.
‘We have the work put in, it doesn’t matter who we are playing, to be honest,’ O’Driscoll said.
‘Yes, it’s a final but we are only here because we have won the games before that, and we have treated every game like it’s a final, like it’s the last game of this competition.
‘Kilbrittain are in our way, they’re there on merit, we respect them but even if we were playing Nemo Rangers we would be confident that we have the work done and that we have the squad.’
Numbers are strong this year with Kilmacabea and O’Driscoll feels that strength in depth has been crucial.
‘There are 33 on the panel, we have used 27 players in the four games and everyone is contributing,’ he said.
The O’Donovan twins, goalkeeper Tim and Micheál (31) both returned this year, Tim taking his chance to make the number one spot his own. Both Joseph Collins and Diarmuid O’Callaghan are back this season after a year abroad in 2016, in Canada and New Zealand respectively.
Former Cork minor Damien Gore is a massive addition in attack, while minors Dan Lynch and Eoin O’Sullivan are all making their presence felt this season, as is Óisin O’Sullivan. Ciarán Donovan, who had spent a few years in America, is another plus this season.
‘They all make a difference,’ O’Driscoll said.
Kilmacabea, however, will be without both Niall Hayes (broken bone in his foot) and Martin Collins (suspended) for Sunday’s final, both suffered in the semi-final against Plunkett’s. Both are huge losses but this year, more than any gone before, Kilmacabea feel they can soak up their absences, and finally deliver a first South West JAFC crown.