BY NOEL HORGAN
WHILE he has been involved with the senior squad since 2011, it wasn’t until last year that Kevin O’Driscoll made his championship debut, and he is obviously hoping to feature on a regular basis again in the campaign ahead.
But the 26-year old Tadgh MacCarthaigh clubman says he’s fully aware of how keen competition for places is, stating there are positions up for grabs in all sectors.
‘That’s always been the case in Cork, and this year even more so, because 35 players were used in the league, and a lot of the newcomers showed potential,’ the West Cork man said.
‘I know myself how difficult it is just to break into the squad, as I got a lot of game-time in the league over the past few seasons, and I had to wait until last year to get a championship spot.
‘I was delighted to finally make the breakthrough, and hopefully I can drive on from here,’ said O’Driscoll ahead of Sunday’s Munster championship clash with Tipperary in Thurles.
He wasn’t included on the squad for Cork’s previous championship encounter with Tipp when the Rebels were put to the pin of their collar to prevail at Páirc Uí Chaoimh two years ago.
‘I watched that game from the stand, and, like everybody else, I thought Cork were very lucky to get over the line.
‘Aidan Walsh kicked some massive points near the end to get Cork home, but Tipp gave an excellent display, full of intensity and physicality, and we’re expecting the exact same from them on Sunday.
‘We know what’s coming, so we’ll have to be prepared for it, but I believe things are going well within the camp, the training has been very good and the mood is very positive,’ he revealed.
O’Driscoll accepts that being relegated from Division 1 in the league was disappointing, but he contends it wasn’t a major setback as far as their championship aspirations are concerned.
‘Getting relegated wasn’t ideal, but if we had been told at the start we’d pick up six points and get to use 35 different players, we’d probably have taken it.
‘We have to be accountable for our results, but it’s been a while since a team went down on score difference with six points, so the league wasn’t without its positives from our perspective,’ he suggested.
‘After the league, we knew what our schedule was going to be, we knew how many weeks we had to prepare for the Munster semi-final, so we just built towards that, and hopefully all the hard work we’ve done is going to bear fruit on Sunday.’
O’Driscoll, who didn’t play minor with Cork, won All-Ireland medals at U21 and junior level in 2009 and 2013 respectively, but he admits his prospects of tasting championship success with the seniors this year don’t look particularly bright, taking their feeble exit from the All-Ireland series at the hands of Kildare in Thurles last year as a yardstick.
‘We didn’t give a good account of ourselves against Kildare, there is no question about that, but maybe the season could have taken a different turn if we had beaten Kerry in the Munster final,’ he suggested.
‘We should have won the drawn match, but the bottom line is that we didn’t get there in the replay, and, following the performance against Kildare, it’s easy to understand why people are inclined to write us off as championship contenders now.
‘Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and, to be honest, we have no expectations this year, but all we can do within the group is work hard, and see where it gets us.
‘The self-belief is still there, but our only target at the moment is to go up to Thurles, where we fell down so badly against Kildare in our last championship match, and try to get a result against Tipp,’ he stressed.
Along with his siblings Colm and Brian, Kevin played in all four of Cork’s championship games last year, which was obviously a tremendous honour for the O’Driscoll family.
‘Football is something we grew up, it was always a topic of conversation in our house,’ Kevin revealed, adding that his father Gene, who won an All-Ireland senior club medal with O’Donovan Rossa in 1993, has been a huge influence on the careers of his three lads.
‘As well as playing himself, he coached our underage teams, and he always carried us to and from games, but that’s not forgetting the mother either, who was just as important in the background.
‘There’s huge competition between us, but in a good way, and hopefully it leads to a bit more intensity on the pitch.
‘We kinda drive each other on, and none of us is slow to give out some pointers if we feel they are needed.
‘A Munster final against Kerry in Killarney is always a massive occasion whether you’re just a Cork supporter or you have someone taking part, so, needless to say, it was a source of immense pride for our parents to have the three of us involved last year.
‘But that’s looking backwards I suppose, we just want to play in another Munster final now, and we’ll need to come away with the win in Thurles on Sunday in order to get there.
‘We are totally focused on that at the moment, because Tipp are too good a team to be thinking about anything else,’ concluded O’Driscoll, who, having lined out at wing back, midfield and wing forward at different times over the past couple of seasons, is recognised as an important utility player at this stage.