Unlikely Cork U21 hero reflects on his dramatic winning goal against Down

Unlikely Cork U21 hero reflects on his dramatic winning goal against Down
Cork wing-forward Colm O'Driscoll after scoring the match-winning goal against Down in the 2009 U21 football final. Picture: Denis Minihane.

MAY 4, 2009 is a day that will always stand out in the career of Colm O’Driscoll.

The Tadhg MacCarthaigh native netted a last-minute winner which secured All-Ireland final glory for the Cork U21 footballers.

Cork trailed by two points as the game entered its 61st minute. The young Rebels had produced a number of thrilling late finales all season long. This day proved no exception.

O’Driscoll showed great initiative to follow in a drive from Aidan Walsh. The hard-working half-forward was rewarded for his endeavours when he netted from close range to seal a dramatic victory for the Rebels.

“I suppose for the lads on that squad, it was a real boost to our football careers to get over the line against Down. It certainly reinforced to me the importance of showing grit and playing to the final whistle in games.”

Chris O'Donovan and David Goold celebrate the late goal. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Chris O'Donovan and David Goold celebrate the late goal. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

With that All-Ireland final defining moment firmly etched on his mind, the dual star, who hurls with Bishopstown, enjoys looking back at match clips as he ensured his name will rightly be remembered as the Cork U21 hero.

“It is nice to look back at some of the video clips and see our families and fans jumping with joy after scoring the winner. It is nice to see the happiness that victory brought to people.

“After getting married last year, I probably look at GAA differently now. I see it as a part of my life instead of my whole life. It is special to me to look back at this game and see success.”

Colm O'Driscoll pursued a career in fitness. Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
Colm O'Driscoll pursued a career in fitness. Picture: Emma Jervis Photography

He comes from a family steeped in GAA. His father Gene won an All-Ireland senior club championship title with O’Donovan Rossa and has enjoyed a very successful coaching career in both the club and inter-county circuit.

His brothers Kevin and Brian have also enjoyed very distinguished careers for both their club and county.

Colm and young brother Kevin, who is still on the Cork senor panel, both played key roles in helping the U21 footballers record their 11th All-Ireland victory.

“Kevin played midfield that day. It is very nice to play with a family member, but that squad knew each other well. Some of us had played together at minor level. Every guy on that panel worked very hard at training.

“Every time we put on the red jersey together you knew that the guy beside you, or the man on the bench ready to come on wouldn’t let you down. So you could say that whole squad including the management and backroom team were a big GAA family.”

The Cork U21s were captained to All-Ireland final glory by star forward Colm O’Neill. The Ballyclough man ultimately enjoyed a brilliant senior footballing career with the Rebels, despite a succession of bad injuries.

“Colm was a good captain and led by example. I spent some of my time roaming around the back line and picking up breaks. From my point of view it was comforting to know that when we got the ball to our inside forward line, the ball always stuck to them.

“They rewarded us with scores for the hard work we did out the field.”

Beating Down was in the vein of dramatic victories over Tipperary and Dublin in previous rounds.

“We never gave up hope. We knew we needed a goal and launched one final attack. At that stage your lungs are burning and you gather the last bit of energy you have left. There was no point in hanging around the middle of the field so I headed towards the Down goal.

“Aidan Walsh made a good run and got his shot away. I decided to keep following the play and when the rebound dropped in front of me, I managed to get my left leg around the ball and it ended up in the net.”

Colm collects his MVP award.
Colm collects his MVP award.

Cork were managed to All-Ireland glory by renowned coach John Cleary.

“John (below) is an excellent coach. He is someone who I admire and respect very much. He also had a brilliant backroom team. I will always be grateful for the journey they brought us on that year.

“We were very fit and our skills were sharp. We knew the game plan and implemented it as best we could. We were always motivated, driven to win and perform to the best of our ability each time we played.”

The GAA enthusiast is looking forward to resuming club activities later this year and is continuing to train away as he maintains his fitness.

“With God’s help we will beat this virus and get rolling again with sport. Maybe this will put things into perspective where sport is a part of people’s lives and it should allow time for other interests and activities.

Nemo's Tomás Ó Sé tackles Carbery's Colm O'Driscoll. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Nemo's Tomás Ó Sé tackles Carbery's Colm O'Driscoll. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“I believe that the GAA season could be shortened, make leagues more competitive where a relegation and promotion system could be used in a county league. Something could certainly be done to improve the quality of games.

“Give players time to enjoy life outside football and see a new player who looks forward to the playing season. A happy player is a better player.”

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