IT takes many things to make a good team, even more to make a great one.
Then, again, do you ‘make’ a great team or does the team make itself? What separates a good team from a great team? What was it that turned O’Donovan Rossa of 1992/93 from being just a good footballing side into an outstanding competitive, successful outfit?
Every team is made up of individual parts and like the proverbial chain, is only as good as its weakest link. However, if those individual parts can be made to gel together, to cover for the faults and weaknesses of some parts and if the result is greater than the sum of the parts, then that team stands on the verge of being a great side. Thus it was with the O’Donovan Rossa team of 1993.
A core reason Rossas were so good, because they played a brand of football that was a precursor of the football we see today. They were before their time.
Many supporters spoke of the lovely brand of football Rossa teams played, a type of football that was of its time but which had flowing movement like the modern play of today. The backs were never afraid to drive forward, the forwards never shirked hard work in defending, not to the extent we do today but enough to be highly effective. It was a lovely, free-flowing, skilful brand of football that delighted the eye.
For a decade before 1993, Rossas had played their own type of pure football with only one intermediate county title to show for their efforts. What made the difference in 1992/93? It was always said but not always true as the fine team of 1960-1963 proved, that Skibbereen football lacked bite, a hardness and toughness to supplement the skill they always displayed. Even today, the manager of the present senior team, Gene O’Donovan, talks of putting an end to the labels that have attached themselves to Skibbereen football down the years. So it was back in 1993 and that team managed to do exactly that.
There was a steel in the team that nobody associated with Rossa football. One only has to harp back to the battle of Ballinascreen in the All-Ireland semi-final against Lavey when the team was subjected to all kinds of intimidation but came through with their greatest win in the entire campaign. In the All-Ireland final against a good, tough Éire Óg team, they were a beaten outfit with ten minutes remaining and yet came out of it with an amazing draw. In the closing minutes of the replay in Limerick, it was truly backs to the wall in the closing minutes but sheer heart and courage saw them through to a famous victory.
Where did that new toughness, that refusal to bow the knee come from in this Rossa team? Go right back to their schooldays when Dermot O’Donovan had them winning games against all the top underage teams in the county. When other teams thought they could intimidate them, they learned to cope, to survive and to thrive.
But, to me, one man could lay a big claim to instilling toughness in that team, as he has done with other teams since, especially his native Tadhg MacCárthaigh and Carbery divisional footballers. When Gene O’Driscoll was roped in as player/coach, Rossas got much more than they expected. His drive, his spirit, his steely play inspired the side, especially the defence. That they survived in Croke Park when he had to go off injured in the first half showed he had really done a great job on instilling a toughness and a belief that had been missing in previous years. Add in a real class, tough forward like John Brady, another blow-in, and Rossas were well equipped in the tough stakes. Not that their own players lacked any steel, it was just a matter of drawing it out as O’Driscoll and Brady did.
Of course, to play the type of sweeping football that Rossas did you need the players who are up to the task and the Rossa team of 1993 definitely had them, in every position. Goalkeeper, Kevin O’Dwyer (age 19) colleges’ star, wearer of the Cork senior jersey, a marvellous shot-stopper with a great football brain. The last line of defence was beautifully balanced with the veteran John Evans (37) in one corner, in the twilight of a great career but playing great football and providing loads of experience; Frank McCarthy (20) in the other corner, livewire, full of dash, a superb man-marker when needed; John O’Donovan (21) at full back, not the biggest in that position but a great reader of the game, superbly balanced and top-class skill.
The half-back line was, undoubtedly, the springboard of many victories with county star Tony Davis (27), at centre back, of great pedigree, a record-breaking, superb footballer whose attacking forays were vital; wing back Gene O’Driscoll (29), the steel of the side, never admitted defeat, a great leader on and off the pitch; wing-back Ian Breen (27), the quiet assassin whose style was unique, superb in Croke Park and man-of-the-match in Limerick. At midfield you had the real work horse of the team, Denis ‘Skinner’ O’Driscoll (28), tall, gangly, highly effective, all heart and work rate, never-say-die spirit; he was supplemented by the power, youth and daring of the strong, adventurous Brian O’Donovan (21), the converted rugby player.
The half-forward line contained speed, guile, brains and fierce work rate with centre forward Joe O’Driscoll (21) full of running, always looking, planning, scheming, spotting gaps, and always moving; wing forward Pat Davis (24), sniping, supporting, lurking and scoring vital goals; wing forward Don Davis (23), one of the greats, non-stop ball of fire, searing solo-runs, great skill, a favourite of the supporters.
The Rossa full-forward line of attack was dashing, cutting and lethal. In one corner was Cavan ace John Brady, strong, forceful, courageous and lethal near goal, a proven winner; corner forward Brian Carmody (22), versatile, defender or attacker, strong, hard, determined; corner forward Neville Murphy (18) young, fast, fearless, daring, loved scoring; full forward Mick McCarthy (27) a football legend, the darling of the crowds, a genius in attack, skill, balance, lethal finisher, one in a lifetime, captain and saviour, the beating heart of the team. Sub, Mick McCarthy, big, strong, determined, full of spirit, never gave up.
These were the players who, along with the other subs, wrote their names in glory in 1993, who gained immortality for their daring feats on the playing pitch. A unique bunch of players who blended into a superb team, a great team that reached the pinnacle of club football in Ireland. Little wonder we have not seen their likes again here in West Cork, they were unique.