LAST week, Liam O’Donovan watched the 2019 Munster senior football final again. He was left with the same feeling as every other time he’s watched it.
‘The only thing that separated us was that Kerry took their chances and we didn’t,’ the Cork defender explained.
‘We actually created more chances than they did, but we missed four goal chances and they were more clinical – that was the difference.’
That was the Clonakilty man’s first Munster SFC final appearance – in his first season with the senior squad – and he emerged with his reputation enhanced. He was a ball of energy at wing back. Aggressive and relentless, he disrupted the Kerry attack while also being an outlet for the Cork defence. Still, it was Kerry that headed for home with a seventh consecutive senior title after a narrow 1-19 to 3-10 win.
Unfortunately, O’Donovan won’t play any part in this Sunday’s latest instalment of the Cork v Kerry rivalry. He tore the cruciate ligament in his left knee during a challenge game with Clonakilty in early July and that’s ruled him out of action for up to nine months.
Instead of rampaging up and down the pitch this Sunday, the Dunmore dynamo will be perched on the edge of the couch at home in West Cork. Covid restrictions mean he can’t attend the match at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
The bad news is that he won’t be involved in this championship campaign but the good news is that his rehab is right on track.
‘I had the operation on August 14th so I am 11 weeks post-op now. Everything is going well at the moment. I’m where I should be,’ he explained.
‘I am already jumping and landing on my operated leg. I’ve started to do resistance training again in the gym with my knee. There were no complications with the surgery, everything is going well and I’m in a good place at the moment.’
It’s the second time in 18 months that O’Donovan has suffered an injury in the same knee. In a 2019 Division 2 national football league game with Clare he injured his MCL (medial collateral ligament) and missed the rest of that season’s league.
‘That wasn’t too major and I was back after six weeks,’ he said, but this time he suffered a 50 percent tear of his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament).
‘The game against Valleys was filmed so I got the video after and I’ve watched the moment I got injured a few times. It looks very innocuous. I got the ball, I ran into a group of Valleys lads which I shouldn’t have done. Last minute I tried to sidestep them, we reckon my foot just got caught in the ground and my knee went.’
O’Donovan knew instantly he was in trouble and within 72 hours, thanks to the Cork football medical team, he had an MRI and the results that confirmed the bad news: he had an ACL tear and his season, with both Clonakilty and Cork, was over before it had started.
‘I was down for a little, maybe a few days, but then you just have to get on with it,’ he explained.
‘Of course, when it happened I was very disappointed. I was back training with Clonakilty after the first lockdown and we were all guns blazing for the championship, but then I got injured.
‘After I got the news it was the ACL I was disappointed but then you realise it is what it is, that I have to get on with it, that I will be back, and it’s a matter of doing the rehab.’
It’s so far, so good on the comeback trail, and he’s moving in the right direction, just like, he says, the Cork football team is. They’ve won Division 3 of the Allianz Football League with a 100 percent record and bounced straight back up to Division 2. Now, it’s all about dethroning Kerry and getting that big scalp this Rebel team desperately wants.
‘We showed in last year’s championship that we can compete with the likes of Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone. We were in those games for long stretches, and we have regrets from them, but there is huge belief in our squad that we can drive on,’ the Clon man said,
‘We believe we belong in the Super 8s. We believed we didn’t belong in Division 3 – it was our own fault we ended up there – and we won six out of six and got out of there.
‘The talent in Cork is unreal but we haven’t shown that on a consistent basis against big teams. It’s good to put up performances against the likes of Kerry, Dublin and Tyrone, but eventually you do have to win the match, to show the supporters and the general public that we are a serious outfit.
‘That win is coming soon. I know from being inside the camp that our belief is strong and the players we have are just as good as what Kerry have. I think we have a good chance.’
O’Donovan believes that breakthrough win will come this Sunday, against all the odds and defy all the predictions that tip a Kerry team that has just won the Division 1 title.
Cork fans will need to wait a little longer to see O’Donovan back in the Cork defence. Next May is a possible return date.
‘I’m in no real rush. I’ve plenty of time left in me so if it means waiting the full nine months to make sure I’m ready to go, I’ll wait. We’ll wait and see how things go,’ he added.