ALL-IRELAND U20 winning captain, Peter O’Driscoll, has hailed Keith Ricken and his management team’s influence on an unforgettable year.
The Ilen Rovers star attended last month’s C103FM, Southern Star, and Celtic Ross Hotel Sports Star of the Year awards in the Rosscarbery hotel. O’Driscoll accepted a monthly award on behalf of the Cork U20 panel, who thrilled the county by winning the 2019 All-Ireland final.
“Captaining any team is a great honour, but, especially, when you are captain of an All-Ireland-winning team, that is extra-special,” O’Driscoll says.
“Looking back, if someone told you that we were going to go on and win an All-Ireland U20 title at the start of the year, I’m not sure how I would have reacted.
“Keith Ricken came in and one of the first sentences out of his mouth was, ‘we are going to win an All-Ireland’. I must be honest and say, up to that point, I had never heard of Keith before.
"I remember getting a text from Kevin O’Donovan, saying Keith Ricken had been announced as U20 boss, so I got straight on to the internet to find out everything I could about him,” O’Driscoll says.
“I clicked with him the minute we first met, though. He is a very strong-minded person and had a vision for what he wanted us (Cork U20s) to achieve, which was important. Winning Munster was grand, but, to Keith, it was just a stepping stone to that All-Ireland goal. From day one, winning an All-Ireland was all that mattered,” O’Driscoll says.
The 2019 Cork U20 squad was well-prepared. That’s down to Keith Ricken’s meticulous approach, both on and off the pitch, and a management team that included Carbery Rangers’ Maurice Moore, who sharpened the players’ skills.
“Keith was brilliant, in that he had all the squad members singing off the same hymn sheet, no matter what interviews were involved in,” O’Driscoll says.
“He’s a man of many talents and coaching GAA is certainly one of them. He came in and put a plan in place to win an All-Ireland. We weren’t given a choice, really, so it was a case of, ‘stick to the plan or jump ship.’ Everyone immediately bought in, even though the panel is made up of a lot of different characters,” O’Driscoll says.
“We had to commit 100%, so everyone cancelled holidays and other events. Competition for places was fierce, as, unusually, there were 40 players on the panel. That brought the best out of everyone, because you knew if you missed a night’s training that you were in danger of falling behind.
"Keith brought an edge and never had an issue making a substitution, but we appreciated that, because we knew it was for the good of the team.
“The minute Keith came in, he said it doesn’t matter who we are playing. It was never about beating Kerry, Tyrone, Dublin, or anyone else. Playing for Cork U20 was about beating whoever was put in front of you,” O’Driscoll says.
“There was always media talk about certain players on different teams we played throughout the championship. Our saying was, ‘no-one comes into our dressing room besides ourselves.’ We were able to block out everything and concentrate on us.”
O’Driscoll is an electrical apprentice with Carbery Milk Products, in Ballineen, and looking forward to a new season of county league and championship with Ilen Rovers. 2019 was productive for the West Cork club. They won the Rochestown Park Hotel Division 3 title and enjoyed success in the early rounds of the Cork SFC.
O’Driscoll is hoping for more improvement over the coming months.
“Ilen Rovers won the Division 3 League title the day before Cork played Tyrone, but I was there on the sideline to witness a brilliant victory for us,” the Cork U20 captain remembered.
“It was bucketing rain in Clonakilty that day, but we got the win. Unfortunately, the last few years have been all about keeping our (Ilen) heads above water at senior level. There was an edge to us this past year and a lot of that is down to our U21s, who enjoyed a bit of success. Most of the squad have some inter-county experience, at this stage, so it is a case of building on all that, heading in to the championship,” O’Driscoll says.