BY KIERAN McCARTHY
O’DONOVAN Rossa manager Shane Crowley has challenged his team to cope with an added pressure this season – the weight of expectation.
The Skibbereen side, who open their Cork SFC campaign against the Carbery divisional team this bank holiday Monday in Dunmanway (3pm), was one of the success stories of 2015, battling to a championship semi-final (before a loss to neighbours Castlehaven) and winning the Kelleher Shield league title (beating the Haven in the Division 1 final).
Now, this season, they are ‘a marked team’ and they won’t be underestimated.
‘We are in the position now where we will be perceived as one of the teams expected to get to the semi-finals, and that will bring its own pressure,’ Crowley pointed out.
‘The challenge for us now is to work hard and step up again. We will be a marked team, nobody will take us for granted and the lads need to be aware of that. We will be seen as a challenge this year but we know ourselves that we need to improve in every aspect of our game.’
He added: ‘It’s a process of maintaining consistency and staying in the top three or four teams. If you are consistent in winning games you have a good chance of staying involved until near the end.’
Crowley and his team are eager to kick on this year but their league form has been mixed, winning four and losing four to date in Division 1, but injuries, work commitments and players involved with Cork haven’t aided their cause.
For Monday’s clash against Carbery, while Donal Óg Hodnett and Sean Carmody have struggled with niggling injuries the last few weeks, both have a ‘high chance’ of featuring, but this game might come too soon for Eoin Hodnett, on his way back from a long-term injury.
Eddie Nealon (work commitments) won’t be involved, while the long-serving Pat Gilmore is another who won’t feature against a Carbery side that Crowley is wary of.
‘On paper Carbery have the potential to be very strong. They are traditionally one of the strongest divisional teams and you can see that in the Carbery representation on Cork panels so we won’t be taking anything for granted or reading too much into their perceived lack of preparation.’
Carbery’s preparation for Monday has consisted of two challenge games – against Muskerry and Duhallow – and one training session (this week), as Gene O’Driscoll, back in charge, and his management team look to get up and running.
As with any divisional team, momentum is key, but Caheragh’s O’Driscoll – who won an All-Ireland Club SFC medal with O’Donovan Rossa in 1993 – acknowledges the task that awaits his charges on Monday.
That said O’Driscoll knows that the new Cork SFC format, where divisional and club teams are treated as equals, offers Carbery a second chance if they lose against Skibb.
‘It’s a huge ask for Carbery to go and win this game. We have the players in the division but we don’t have the collective work done. It will be a good starting point for us, a local derby and a chance to get the Carbery machine up and running,’ O’Driscoll said.
‘If we get a win, it’s bonus, but we know we will have another game if we lose on Monday. If we win that there’s the potential for a third game, and, who knows, you might start to build up some momentum.’
St Colum’s and Cork midfielder Alan O’Connor is expected to feature, while the division is also boosted by Cork senior Brian O’Driscoll deciding to throw his lot in with Carbery this season, instead of UCC.
Former Cork senior selector and Carbery stalwart Owen Sexton will not be involved for Monday, and could opt out of the entire campaign, but O’Driscoll hasn’t ruled out a return for the Kilbrittain man: ‘The door is always open for him. If we progress, he’d be a good guy to have around for training.’
Clann na nGael’s Don O’Driscoll will miss Monday’s game with the ankle injury that kept him out of the All-Ireland U21 final, but Carbery can call on the ever-green Graham Canty again this season, as well as a number of Cork players, such as Ruairi Deane, Colm and Kevin O’Driscoll, Mark Sugrue and Rebel U21 Seanie O’Leary.
O’Driscoll also explained that the panel will be open so any players that hit form for their clubs are in with a chance of featuring.
Involved in the Carbery management team are Declan Walsh (Timoleague), John Harrington (Bantry), Carl O’Mahony (Bandon) and Colm Cronin (St Colum’s). Also, the backroom team includes Patjoe Connolly (liason officer), Sinead Lynch (physio), Sean O’Donovan (kitman) and both John Dineen (St Colum’s) and Kenny O’Driscoll (Muintir Bhaire) as stats men.
The winner of the Carbery v O’Donovan Rossa round one game meets the winner of Beara v St Finbarr’s in Round 2A. The loser of Carbery v O’Donovan Rossa will play the loser of Valley Rovers/Ilen Rovers/Avondhu in Round 2B.