STEPHEN McDonnell who recently retired from senior inter-county hurling with Cork following a very distinguished career has received huge praise from his former club manager Richie Kelleher.
Kelleher, who successfully managed the Glen Rovers senior hurling team for seven seasons which featured two county final triumphs, paid tribute to his club colleague for his brilliant career with the Rebels.
“Stephen was similar to Brian Murphy in that he was always trusted with marking the best forward on the opposition team. If you think back to 2017 against Waterford, he held Austin Gleeson scoreless which underlines his class.
"He also performed a similar great marking job on TJ Reid in 2019 which is no mean feat. He is a fantastic athlete and hurler. He never had an issue with man-marking any player as he was so good at it."
Kelleher revealed that the former senior inter-county star always performed on the big occasion.
“He was some man to get right and perform on the big day. He had a great temperament. He would never leave you down on the big day. Some times in the run-up to a game, you would be scratching your head.
"However, come the big day, he would always perform. He always operated at a high level. He had great standards. His versatility was also a huge addition for both the Cork and Glen Rovers teams. He played everywhere for us and just got on with the job.
"I remember we brought him on as a wing-forward against the Sars in one particular match as he was carrying an injury.
One of the highlights of McDonnell's Cork senior career was captaining the Rebels to Munster final glory in 2017. Richie was a very proud club colleague watching him represent the famous Glen Rovers club on the biggest stage.
“That was a huge honour for Stephen, his family and all involved with the Glen Rovers. He deserved it for his great career. It showed his stature within that dressing room that he was picked to lead that Cork senior team which was full of talented and strong personalities.
"He was a great leader and captain for Cork. Players looked up to him. He can be quiet most of the time. However, when he speaks everyone listens as he always says the right thing.”
Kelleher knew immediately when he first spotted McDonnell playing an underage club game with Glen Rovers that he would embark on a successful club and county career as he recalls.
“My first memory of seeing Stephen play was for the Glen U16 team in a championship game. They had a very strong team at that time. He was only 15 and he finished the game at centre-back. He was a standout.
"He was tall and athletic. He was an old school defender. He also loved the competitive and physical nature of the game.
"He won two minor counties with the Glen before moving on to the senior team as a 17-year-old in 2006.”
McDonnell will turn 32 on January 28 and won two Munster titles during his Cork senior career. He had the honour of making 70 appearances for the Rebels and captaining Cork for two years.
Kelleher and his club colleagues were always very proud of their club man when he lined out for Cork.
“It is the pinnacle of any player’s career to play for their county. We in the Glen always love to see our players wear the famous Cork jersey. They come back to us as better players, but it is a huge personal honour for the players.
"Stephen represented Cork with great distinction. He gave it everything and he enjoyed a great career with them. Captaining Cork to Munster championship glory was the pinnacle for Stephen. He joins a very famous list of players from the Glen who have played senior hurling for Cork.”
His exploits with his club and county have ensured he is a huge role model within the Glen Rovers club. Kelleher revealed how young players are always trying to emulate their local hero.
“The local kids always look up to the club players and inter-county players. Stephen is a great ambassador for the club. He is a great role model. Stephen was rightfully considered a hero for his brilliant club and inter-county career.
"He has never left anyone down. We are fortunate that he will continue playing with the Glen for a good few years to come. He has given us everything. He will never let the club down. He was a huge factor in helping us win two senior titles in recent years.”
Kelleher enjoyed great success during his tenure as senior coach with the Glen but is taking a well-earned break from club management this year. He will however continue to keep a close eye on all hurling developments.
“I am not involved this year. I need a break, but the club also needs to move forward.
" I don’t want to hold the club back.
"Ian Lynam is after stepping up to become the manager. They are great young players coming through which augurs well for the future.
"We won’t be far away.”