After the failings of previous seasons, 2017 is a big year for Cork football and with that in mind, KIERAN McCARTHY look at six West Cork footballers who, for varying reasons, have something to prove in the months ahead
Donal Óg Hodnett: Hodnett is an enigma when it comes to the senior inter-county scene because while his class and influence at club level with O’Donovan Rossa can’t be doubted, for some reason he hasn’t reproduced that form at county level.
Many thought that would change last season when Peadar Healy took over as Cork manager, given that Healy had seen first-hand Hodnett’s potential when he trained the Skibbereen team – but last season with Cork was one to forget for Hodnett as he left the panel during the national league campaign.
The former 2011 and 2012 Munster-winning Cork U21 made an impression in 2014, making his league debut against Westmeath, coming on as a sub in the Munster SFC semi-final win over Tipperary and then starting the round four qualifier win against Sligo. He came on as a sub in that awful team performance against Kildare in the 2015 qualifiers, while the 2016 league saw him come on a sub against Mayo and start at wing forward and score a goal against Donegal – but that was all.
Hodnett has been used primarily as a midfielder with Skibb these past couple of seasons but he’s at his best when handed a free role in attack, given he can score off left or right and has an eye for the posts. The 25-year-old needs to push on with Cork and show what he’s capable of.
Thomas Clancy: Injuries haven’t been kind to the Clonakilty man (24) over the last few seasons so he’s hoping for a better run this year.
An ankle injury suffered in 2015 carried over into early 2016 and come the championship, he didn’t feature until the All-Ireland round four qualifier against Donegal that showed his worth in defence – before he had to go off injured in the second half. That game summed up his senior inter-county career: impressive in defence, got forward to score 0-2 but stopped by an injury.
It’s been frustrating for the player who has a physical presence that the Cork defence needs and, fingers crossed, his injury problems are behind him.
In early December, Clancy had the pin taken out of his ankle – that ruled him out of the inter-provincial series after he had been named on the Munster panel – and he’s hopeful for a clear run of games at inter-county level.
It’s no secret that the Cork defence coughed up too many scores last season and the return of Clancy to full fitness gives Peadar Healy another strong option.
Brian O’Driscoll: The Caheragh man, the youngest of the three O’Driscoll brothers involved with the Cork panel, is seen as the one with the most potential – but a poor 2016 season means he has plenty of room for improvement in 2017.
Winning three Munster U21 titles with Cork (2012-14), O’Driscoll’s impressive displays saw the then 20-year-old feature in the 2014 All-Ireland SFC, starting at wing back in the qualifier win against Sligo and then the quarter-final loss to Mayo in Croke Park. O’Driscoll started three of Cork’s four 2015 championship games, against Clare and Kerry (drawn Munster final and replay), and while he was dropped for the qualifier loss to Kildare, he did come on as a sub.
In 2016 he started the shock Munster SFC semi-final loss to Tipperary, and the wins against Limerick and Longford, but he was subbed at half-time in the last two games, while he was a second-half sub in the qualifier loss to Donegal – but the general feeling is that he is capable of a lot better.
Former Cork All-Ireland winning manager Billy Morgan told the Star: ‘Brian has the potential to be an outstanding player, if handled properly.’
Again, there’s no disputing O’Driscoll’s potential and an in-form Brian in the Cork half-back line is a huge asset to the Rebels – he can defend but is also an attacking force who can score. At centre forward for Caheragh in the South West JAFC last season, he scored 1-7 against Barryroe.
Still only 22, there’s a lot more to come from him but considering Cork’s defensive frailties last year, they also need O’Driscoll to step up.
Michael Hurley: As is commonly the way in GAA, it’s often said that the youngest brother is the one to watch – but I’m sure Brian, Shane and Stephen Hurley have their own thoughts on that and their own methods to keep younger brother Michael grounded.
But with Brian sidelined as he steps up his recovery from a serious hamstring injury, the spotlight falls on Castlehaven forward Michael, who was named the 2016 Munster U21 Footballer of the Year.
He certainly made an impression in the championship last year, one of the few bright spots for Cork – he scored one point when coming on as a late sub in the win against Limerick, he started the victory against Longford at wing forward and kicked another point, and the management showed faith in him by picking him again for the qualifier against Donegal at Croke Park.
Lightning fast, blessed with a good football brain and dangerous on the ball, Hurley’s one of the young guns that were given a chance last season and he’ll look to kick on again this year.
Ryan Price: If 2016 was his breakthrough season then this year is all about consolidation for the O’Donovan Rossa goalkeeper, who will face extra competition for the number one jersey now that Ken O’Halloran is back in the fold.
Price started all four Cork football championship games last season, keeping clean sheets against Limerick and Donegal after bouncing back from a shaky showing in the shock Munster SFC semi-final loss to Tipperary.
Given that he finished last season in possession of the jersey, Price is the early front-runner this year but he will face competition from O’Halloran – however, Price’s better range of kick-outs and superior shot-stopping ability gives him the edge. Still, he’s a relative newcomer at inter-county level having only ever played three national league games and those four championship matches, so he needs to start the season strongly, as the experienced O’Halloran, who along with Michael Shields was released from the panel after last year’s league campaign, looks to reclaim the number one spot.
Speaking to the Star late last year, Price noted, ‘I’m not in the position to ever think the jersey is mine’, so he’s ready to impress all over again.
John O’Rourke: Cork footballers have had more than their fair share of injuries over the past few years, with Carbery Rangers’ O’Rourke another to suffer prolonged spells on the sidelines, to the extent that he’s never been able to fully establish himself.
When he’s fit, he’s an asset to any team and you could see his influence as Carbery Rangers won the 2016 Cork SFC; he was outstanding in the county final win.
The shoulder injuries he suffered in 2015 – dislocations against Dublin and Nemo Rangers – ruled him out of last year’s entire league campaign, and considering there was a new management team in place, he was on the back foot from the start.
In the championship, the Ross man, who turns 24 in March, started against Tipperary and was a used sub against Limerick, Longford and Donegal – but there’s a lot more to come from him.
Comfortable in the half-forward line, he has an engine that allows him run all day, he works extremely hard and his five points – and man-of-the-match display – against Ballincollig in last year’s county final show he can score and step up on the big days.