THE Cork City number nine shirt has endured a troubled recent past.
The best illustration of this is the fact that the last player to wear the number for two consecutive full seasons was Graham Cummins – in his first spell, 2010-11.
Since then, Davin O’Neill, Daryl Kavanagh, Anthony Elding, John O’Flynn, Danny Morrissey, Achille Campion, Cummins again and Mark O’Sullivan have played for City wearing 9, with Cummins’ 2018 campaign by far the best.
Last season, Conor Davis was assigned the shirt but injuries meant that he never got on the field for the Rebel Army.
Now, Beineón O’Brien-Whitmarsh is taking on the mantle, switching from the 29 he has had for the past two seasons, and he is keen to make his mark and repay the faith of manager Colin Healy.
“Number 9 was always my preferred number growing up, coming up through the ages,” he says.
“I think Colin knew that it was a number that I wanted and then when he offered it to me at the start of the year there was no second thoughts or anything.
“I felt it was a real vote of confidence from him to offer me the jersey, so I was delighted with it.” Like so many of the youthful City squad for 2021, Fermoy native O’Brien-Whitmarsh has experience of working with new boss Healy from his time in charge of the club’s U19 teams and that was a key factor in his re-signing.
“It was a pretty straightforward decision for me, really,” he says.
“I love playing for Cork City and I enjoyed playing under Colin previously. He knows that I’m about and he always showed confidence in me, so it was a fairly easy decision.
“I thought there was definitely a big deal that Colin was in charge again this year. Having worked with a lot of the younger lads coming through the academy, and playing with the likes of Gearóid Morrissey and Steven Beattie is a big help.
“He’s well-respected and people are going to buy into how he wants us to play and how he works, so it was a big plus.”
For O’Brien-Whitmarsh and the rest of the squad, it’s a case of resetting after last year’s relegation and focusing on trying to get City back to the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
“It was a tough year last year, obviously,” he says.
“I didn’t play many games, I was injured so I found it hard, it was very stop-start, especially with Covid, too.
“I think everyone is just putting that to the back of their minds – it’s done and we just have to focus on this year now and trying to get back up.
“We want to challenge ourselves and get back up to the Premier Division, because that’s where Cork City belong.” The squad that Healy has assembled features a lot of those who were there last year, along with the notable addition of Steven Beattie. That the Dubliner and captain Gearóid Morrissey are back on board is a big plus, O’Brien-Whitmarsh feels.
“Everyone’s very keen,” he says.
“We’re back and doing a lot of running, everyone’s getting themselves fit. The aim is to do as well as we can this year and try to get straight back up.
“The league is going to be very competitive this year, obviously, but I think we’ve a very young, hungry, fit group there and a lot of local lads too, which is important.
“We all love playing for Cork City so it’s a very proud moment for us all to get to the first team. Growing up, I’d have known a lot of the lads that are playing with me now.
“Because we are such a young squad, having people like Gearóid signing back and Steven Beattie returning is huge.
“They’ve won leagues and cups, so it’s great to have that experience in the dressing-room.” The striker, who has just turned 21, is the son of Paul Whitmarsh, who was a legend at English non-league club Hendon and also played for Cobh Ramblers. However, there was never any pressure on Beineón to follow suit.
“He was always there for support and he always encouraged me,” he says, “but I felt that a lot of it had to come from within – if I didn’t want to play football, he wouldn’t have forced it on me.
“I’ve always been that way, though, I’ve always wanted to become a footballer, but having him there for advice was a big help.
“He’s obviously my biggest role model, but it was a helping hand more than anything.” And, with younger brother Joe part of the City U17 set-up, football is naturally the dominant topic in the household.
“He’s a midfielder, a totally different type of player, but he’s doing quite well for himself,” Beineón says.
“Between the three of us and my youngest brother Seán, we all talk about football and we have differences of opinion and everything, but it’s good.”