NOEL O’Leary is football to the core.
He has been an outstanding servant to both Cill Na Martra and Cork football, with the 2010 All-Ireland an obvious highlight in Rebel red, though he also tasted county success last October with his beloved club.
As a Cork defender, he always gave everything to the cause. He still does for Cill na Martra and that’s the reason he was picked for a Muskerry GAA/Auld Triangle Sports Award recently.
The plight of Cork football currently is well documented and it feels like a total contrast to how it was were when O’Leary donned the Cork colours.
O’Leary feels if there is one county that is capable of turning fortunes around in a short space of time, it is the Rebels.
“It is a hard one to really to find out what is the root cause of the way things are going,” he says. “I definitely think that the talent is there. There are some good guys in there and I personally think that there are a few players out in Cork county that are good enough to be in there.
“On any given day if Cork can put it together, they can be a danger for anyone.”
With Limerick coming to Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday week for the Munster semi-final, O’Leary believes Cork can have a decent summer.
“If there is one county that can turn it around quick, I think it is Cork. But that is easier said than done.
“I think an awful lot of work has to go into it and I think guys are going to have to join forces a small bit.
“You need guys involved that love the game and that are probably out of it at the moment. We need to get as much experience as we can involved in Cork football.”
O’Leary served as a mentor with Cork development squads in recent years and knows the talent is out there.
“Scout the place, there certainly is good players out there. A case in point, I was involved with the minors.
“Ilen Rovers played against Carbery Rangers a couple of weeks ago and by all accounts, an 18-year-old was one of their best players, a guy that I hadn’t come across myself or heard of.
“But it just shows that guys can come overnight here and the talent is definitely out there. It’s just to harness it and try to get the thing going.
“I would be optimistic that way, but it will take a lot of work. I heard that Conor Counihan has been appointed as the director of football. That is a very positive step going forward.”
Last October in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was a day to treasure forever for O’Leary and all connected with the Cill Na Martra club. The Gaeltacht side secured the Intermediate Football Championship crown after defeating Aghabullogue.
That was a historic first-ever adult county title for the group, having made four semi-finals since 2012, while they also were defeated in the 2009 final at the hands of Carrigaline.
The first outing in the Premier Intermediate grade went well recently for Cill Na Martra, who defeated a well-regarded Éire Óg side in the opening round.
Asked where the Cill Na Martra IFC victory ranks, he says: “It is right up there.
“In regards winning it, it didn’t sink in until well after it. As a club, we had never won a county at adult level. So that was our first time and to be a part of the first team to have done it, it was great to be a part of it.
“They are a very talented bunch of players. I am really lucky and my brother Colm is the same, that we are probably coming to the end of our careers and we have been very lucky to have played with this bunch of players.
“There is talent in abundance and it is in their hands. Certainly, if they can keep going the way they are going, they are destined for better things.
“But again for this year, we just have to take it game by game. The next round now will be our only focus.
“I would have to give a special mention to our manager Kevin O’Sullivan. What people don’t realise is that Kevin comes up from Killeagh every night to training.
“We got a glut of players from the same age group that came up together. They are hitting their early 20s and are kind of the driving force behind the club now. We’re very lucky in that sense because we’re a very small club.”