Cork will get Munster campaign underway in Clonakilty
BY DENIS HURLEY
THE advent of the John Kerins Cup has helped to prime the Cork U20s ahead of next week’s commencement of their championship campaign, Ilen Rovers star Peter O’Driscoll believes.
With counties precluded from playing championship games at the grade, this year saw the introduction of a multi-divisional competition, named in honour of the late, great Cork goalkeeper.
Cork were joined in Division 1 by Kerry, Kildare, Dublin and Galway and put up a good showing. They drew their first two games against the Kingdom and the Dubs and, while they lost to eventual winners the Tribesmen, they responded by beating the Lilywhites.
Now, Keith Ricken’s side are gearing up for next Thursday’s (11th) home match in Clonakilty against Waterford, who overcame Clare by 1-10 to 1-9 on Tuesday night, and team captain O’Driscoll is happy with the grounding that the round-robin competition has provided.
‘It has definitely been a big help,’ he says.
‘Last year, there was a rule from Croke Park saying that you could only play challenge matches on certain nights and it was hard to prepare as best we could, there were games that were arranged and then cancelled.
‘Nothing beats matches and to be guaranteed four games against top-quality teams was great. Kerry are the Munster champions, Kildare are the All-Ireland champions and Dublin and Galway are really good too.
‘We got good results and there were a lot of positive but we have to draw a line under that now and look ahead and concentrate.’
Cork’s opening game, the draw against Kerry, was played in Clonakilty at the end of May and O’Driscoll was proud to wear the red jersey in West Cork.
‘For myself and Maurice Shanley from Clon, Gearóid O’Donovan from Newcestown, Mark Hodnett from Ross and Rory Maguire from Castlehaven, it was a very special occasion,’ he says.
‘It was great that a lot of people who had worked with me when I was younger had a chance to come along. There was a really good atmosphere and the crowd drove us on late on in the game.’
Ricken was a late appointment after Gene O’Driscoll’s departure as manager and Peter O’Driscoll has been impressed with the Cork IT GAA development officer.
‘He’s been very good,’ he says.
‘He brings a different aspect to coaching, to be fair. He’s definitely given us a lot of food for thought.’
O’Driscoll is one of a number of survivors from 2018, when Cork lost to Kerry by six points in the Munster final.
‘Last year, a lot of us were doing the Leaving Cert,’ he says, ‘so your whole concentration couldn’t have been on football.
‘We’re able to train more this year and you feel that you’re improving every day.’
This time round, he is undertaking an electrical apprenticeship with Carbery Milk Products, happy to be based at in West Cork.
‘In fairness to Carbery, they’ve been very accommodating in terms of training and things like that,’ he says.
‘It’s great to be at home, it helps with Ilen too.’
The Baltimore/Church Cross club have certainly experienced a positive turnaround in 2019. Involved in the relegation battle last year, they have already secured promotion to Division 2 of the county league for 2020 while they got their championship off to a good start with victory over Carbery Rangers.
‘It’s a lot better this year,’ O’Driscoll says.
‘Nobody really gave us a chance against Ross so there was no pressure, it was about going out and playing our own game, having a cut.
‘We have the league final to look forward to now too and then the Fermoy game in the championship is on August 3rd, so it’s very enjoyable right now.
‘Playing Division 2 next year will help and getting the win in the first round put us in a good position in the rankings for the premier senior championship. We’ve won ten or 11 games in a row now and that becomes a habit.’
Three years ago, O’Driscoll was still a minor but a key part of the Ilen side which reached the county U21 final, losing out to St Finbarr’s. Many of that team have now made the step up and Ilen are benefiting from the exuberance of youth.
‘I’d say eight or nine of the team that won the West Cork U21 featured against Ross,’ he says. ‘We have a very young squad, the oldest fellas involved are 30 or 31, Conor O’Driscoll and Paddy Minihane, though they have loads of miles left to give too. We’re young and hopefully we can show that we can only get better.’