MARTIN O’Brien has accepted the challenge of reinvigorating Clonakilty’s county championship fortunes.
The former Clon player, who won a county senior title with the club in 2009, is taking over the hot seat following Mike ‘Haulie’ O’Neill’s departure from the Clonakilty dugout.
O’Brien has big shoes to fill, but he knows the challenge that lies ahead.
‘I did my due diligence and had two great phone calls with Haulie as well as speaking to Eoin Ryan and Neil Deasy, both of whom will be part of my Clon senior football management team,’ O’Brien told The Southern Star.
‘Those lads have huge belief in the current (Clonakilty) group. Haulie possesses a far greater football IQ that I will ever have. If Haulie O’Neill believes that this group is capable of achieving more, well, I would have been foolish not to accept,’ added the new Clon boss, who managed the Kanturk team that won the 2022 premier intermediate football title.
Highly-respected inter-county performance analyst Conor Weir is also expected to join O’Brien in Clonakilty and continue a working relationship that flourished during their Cork senior camogie and Kanturk football tenures.
The quality of O’Brien’s CV speaks for itself: winning a premier intermediate county with Newcestown’s hurlers, three years coaching with the Cork senior camogie panel under Paudie Murray and winning two All-Irelands, managing Mitchelstown’s footballers to consecutive county finals, part of the Cork minor football coaching set up that won back-to-back Munster titles and last season’s Premier IFC county success with Kanturk.
Now, a fresh challenge awaits the new Clonakilty manager in attempting to emerge from a 2023 Premier SFC group that contains Castlehaven, Carbery Rangers and Valley Rovers.
‘I’ve had a really enjoyable journey in a short space of time,’ O’Brien said.
‘You are only as good as the players available to you. The reality of coaching is about players buying in. With Clonakilty, there are certain areas we need to work on, like every other club. From speaking with Haulie, he and I both feel that the current group can develop and progress.
‘The other thing that attracted me to the job is the fact you get to coach at the highest club level in Cork. Mistakes at this level expose vulnerabilities so you must be sharper. The challenges are greater. When I played, I wanted to challenge myself at the highest level. It is the same as a coach.
‘The group Clonakilty is in, all difficult games and all fascinating challenges. That’s where you want to be. I spoke to the Clonakilty players and told them what was in it for me and for them. I was very clear in the development that both of us are going to undergo and the guidelines to get there.’
Deciding to vacate his Kanturk post in the same year O’Brien helped guide the Duhallow club to their first-ever premier intermediate football title success was an incredibly difficult decision.
‘Leaving Kanturk is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in my managerial career,’ he said.
‘Kanturk was a club that I went into where I realised my job was to facilitate performance. The Kanturk players drive the standards there. They are serial winners.
‘You always hear about issues getting fellas to train whereas with Kanturk you are trying to get them off the pitch. That type of environment cultivates success. I mentioned Aidan Walsh in my first meeting with the Clonakilty players. Aidan’s standards, how he conducts himself – first in at training, making sure band work is done and that all important elements of preparation are done properly.’
While he enjoyed his time with Kanturk, the pull of returning to Clonakilty was too great.
‘If you asked me at the start of my coaching career, where would I like to coach the most? I would have always said Clon,’ O’Brien stated.
‘And yet, Clon was there asking but I was hesitating because of the Kanturk players … but there was no way I could turn down Clonakilty for anything. That’s the truth.’