'The neighbours used to say all they ever heard was the thud of the football off the wall'

'The neighbours used to say all they ever heard was the thud of the football off the wall'
Glandore's Damien Gore in action against Scoil Fhiachna NS, Glengarriffe. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IN the 10th minute of the game up in Brewster Park last Sunday a young red-haired corner-forward took a kick-pass into the chest for a mark, turned and popped a regular point.

It was an introduction on the national stage for Damien Gore, his first league point for Cork and if it felt like the beginning of something, the thought struck that it was also the end of a process that started an awfully long time ago. Sometimes we can forget the work that’s happened all along the way to make this happen.

Gore against Clare's U20s last summer. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Gore against Clare's U20s last summer. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Last week there was an excellent read on the Player’s Tribune by Jesse Lingard, telling his story from the age of five, with all the mix of talent and challenges and pure will to make his dream come through and how he will always play with a smile because of what he went through to play for Man Utd.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen easily or by accident and inter-county football has that element of a journey as well. How does a young lad from Leap become a Cork footballer?

If they’ve known about him in Kerry for a couple of years now and he’s been a name in West Cork since he was 14/15, ask in Leap and they’ll say they knew very early on that Damien Gore had something different. He’s not quite their first ever man to play Cork senior by the way – John Daly played a few league games way back in the late 1960s.

Very early, like from the age of six or so. Kevin O’Driscoll tells of taking an U12 team out for games and everyone would be looking at the small eight-year-old inside-forward wondering what he was doing out there.

Damien Gore, Mount St Michael, battles with Paul Barry Murphy and Cian Leonard, Scoil Mhuire gan Smál. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Damien Gore, Mount St Michael, battles with Paul Barry Murphy and Cian Leonard, Scoil Mhuire gan Smál. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

“He’d win the ball then ahead of some full-back twice his size, take off past one or two defenders and go for a goal or a point and people would go, ah ok, that’s why he’s there! He could always find his scores even then, always accurate.”

Gore was basically two-footed even at that age. Left foot, right foot, solo, pass, shoot.

A natural? Not exactly, as like every skill there was a story behind it.

O’Driscoll explains: “It was hours of ball in his hand, all the time. See he had a granduncle Tim John who used pick him up from school and they’d be hours outside kicking ball every evening.

“The neighbours used say all they ever heard was the thud of the ball off the wall, over and over, constant. He has a younger brother Adrian who’s minor and a fine defender (like all small brothers of talented players) from playing out in that yard constantly. It was just pure practice, kicking ball, catching ball, pure skills.”

That was the start of it. By the time he was 11 he was a star of the U14 Kilmac team that won a Féile county title – including one absolute wonder goal – and honestly the scores haven’t really stopped since.

The kicking has always been decent, has developed in line with the hours put into it, whole afternoons and weeks and summers where Gore would cycle three or four miles to the pitch and spend hours kicking scores left and right foot from every possible scoring position. These totals didn’t happen by chance.

When Kilmac won the West Cork U21 two years back, Gore scored 0-11 in the final against Bandon, even being double-marked – something he’s well used to. O’Driscoll remembers even games U14 where opposition seemed to allocate their whole full-back line to the job of stopping him, and he’s clever enough to find spaces or run different angles or lay ball off to still be an influence.

Gore takes on Tipperary as a minor. Picture: Larry Cummins
Gore takes on Tipperary as a minor. Picture: Larry Cummins

It all helped his movement anyway, which coaches describe as non-stop. Cork came calling pretty early on with development squads from U14 and there was rarely doubt this would end with Gore in red. He top scored for Cork minors in his first year, with tallies like 0-8 v Tipp, 0-7 v Limerick, two 0-4s v Kerry and Donegal, and the move to U20 last year was another step up.

O’Driscoll says, “This would have been in his head definitely, to play senior for Cork.

“Everything has been about getting there. He’d have given those hours to ball work and then when the time came with programmes from Cork he’d go to the gym and do everything he needed to build himself up. When he had a hip surgery done last Christmas, he did all the rehab perfectly.

“If his hamstrings are tight you’ll see him cycling up to training. It all comes from him you know, he knows what’s needed and the dedication is there.”

Kilmacabea's Damien Gore under pressure from Tadgh MacCarthaigh's Daniel Kingston and Michael O'Donovan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kilmacabea's Damien Gore under pressure from Tadgh MacCarthaigh's Daniel Kingston and Michael O'Donovan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

He’s hardly slackened off with the club either. Kevin O’Driscoll was the manager of the junior team and had to wait until Gore was 18 to play him in 2017. When he made his debut Kilmac hadn’t won a West Cork Junior A title, they’ve since won two, Gore having a no-loss record like Brian Fenton with Dublin. 

And if it’s a bit too simplistic to say he’s been the only reason for success, well it’s certainly been a game-changer.

O’Driscoll references the big factors such as the necessity for every team that wants to win something to have the scores from that marquee forward - he scored 1-18 in his first two championship games at junior level, 0-5 from play in the drawn final this year - and the little details, like his defenders actually having to raise their game to cope in training every night. 

That’s the kind of standard driven, the sort of environment that comes with having a Cork senior footballer around.

He’s been called into the senior panel by Ronan McCarthy, impressed enough through the winter to get the start for the spring and all those performances and scores and hours led to that score last Sunday in Enniskillen. Seriously, try totting up the time given between Tim John’s backyard, the Leap pitch from U8 to junior and all the days alone, the primary school in Glandore and the secondary school in Ross, the Cork squads from U14 up.

Kevin O’Driscoll wouldn’t bet on the story ending here if he’s given a proper chance but it’s been an epic trip already for Damien Gore, that part we don’t normally think about.

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