The big interview: Kevin O'Driscoll lived the dream as a Cork footballer

West Cork man got to pull on the Rebel geansaí alongside his brothers Colm and Brian, even if his career was filled with some disappointments
The big interview: Kevin O'Driscoll lived the dream as a Cork footballer

Kevin O'Driscoll in action against Paul Flynn, Dublin, at Croke Park. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

FORMER Cork senior footballer Kevin O’Driscoll knew his inter-county career with the Rebels had concluded following this year’s Munster final defeat against Kerry in Fitzgerald Stadium.

The Tadhg MacCarthaigh club man shared a tender moment with his wife Aoife on the pitch in Killarney as he quietly bade farewell to inter-county football in tough circumstances following a heavy defeat against Kerry. He admits it was a ‘tough’ decision all the same. 

“I made my mind up after the Munster final defeat to Kerry. It is always tough walking away from something you enjoy so much and have had the privilege of doing for so many years. 

I had a bit of an emotional moment with my wife Aoife on the pitch after the game and knew that was it. It was a bad way to finish your career, but that's sport.”

The Cork footballers have subsequently appointed Keith Ricken as the new manager, the former Cork U20 boss tasked with restoring confidence and introducing the many promising young players from recent successes. 

O'Driscoll is confident that the talent exists in Cork football to challenge at the top table again. 

“I had no communication from Keith and the new management team, which was disappointing after a good few years of service. But I'd like to wish them well going forward. 

"It’s not an easy job so anyone taking it on deserves the support of the full Cork GAA community. The talent is definitely in Cork to challenge at the top table again. I think getting the blend right between experience and new young talent will be important to drive the team forward over the next few years. 

"I've no doubt we'll be back challenging for All-Ireland titles again before long,” said O'Driscoll, who works as a chief financial officer with West Cork Distillers in Skibbereen.

DEDICATION

He believes the commitment levels required to play senior inter-county football nowadays have increased dramatically since he first joined the panel. 

“The commitment levels have gone through the roof. I'm not saying that in a negative way, inter-county football now is as close to professional sport as you can get without actually being professional. 

"I wouldn't say the fitness or skill levels we train to now are very different from when I first joined the panel but what has gone up a level is everything else that goes with it such as video analysis, load monitoring, and sports psychology. 

There is no day that you're not doing something Cork football-related. However, for the guys who are involved and committed to that level, it's enjoyable.” 
He enjoyed a decorated underage career with Cork which included All-Ireland U21 success in 2009 made his debut for the Cork senior footballers in 2011 when he appeared in that year’s National Football League campaign, his breakthrough season. 

He helped the UCC footballers win the Sigerson Cup in 2011 as he was crowned Man of the Match following their win against UUJ.

He still had to wait however until 2015 before he made his championship debut against Clare in the Munster championship. 

“I have great memories of my time with Cork. The big days though few and far between definitely make all the effort worthwhile. I played with some unbelievable talents for Cork and I was lucky enough to play with all the 2010 winning team which was huge for me so early in my senior career. 

"I also played against all the big-name players for the other various counties over the last 10 years at some stage so those days are always something I'll be able to look back on. I also made lifelong friendships.” 

 Mark Keane’s dramatic winning goal against Kerry in last year’s Munster semi-final which was played under the lights in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a memory that the West Cork man will always treasure. 

“It's definitely up there. Beating Kerry with a last-second goal was great. I don't think a pure sporting moment comes any better than that. 

"The two Super 8s games against Dublin and Tyrone that were played in Croke Park in 2019 would be another highlight. That was my first real taste of championship football in Croke Park playing against two top teams. Playing Dublin in Croke Park is something that definitely sticks with you when you look back on your career.” 

Another memory, albeit more disappointing, was the Munster final replay defeat against Kerry in 2015. 

Cork's Kevin O'Driscoll shoots from Kerry's Anthony Maher during the 2015 Munster final replay in Fitzgerald Stadium. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork's Kevin O'Driscoll shoots from Kerry's Anthony Maher during the 2015 Munster final replay in Fitzgerald Stadium. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Kerry required a late point from Fionn Fitzgerald to rescue a draw in the first game following a gallant Cork display before they won by five points. O'Driscoll played a huge role in the two Munster final encounters as he recorded three points from play. 

He still looks back on the first game with huge regret. 

“It is something that still hurts to think about now. It was my first Munster final and a game that went very well for me personally. 

It was a game we should have won regardless of decisions outside our control, so to not have walked away with a medal that day is definitely a regret. 

"Looking back now it is one of my best memories of playing in a Cork jersey even though we didn't win.”

He wants his club Tadhg MacCarthaigh to emulate the success of the Boherbue junior footballers next season as they seek to capture the junior county title for the first time.

The former Cork senior footballer played a huge role in helping his beloved Tadhg MacCarthaigh capture this year’s Carbery junior football championship football title.

“I can't wait to get going with the club for 2022. We are in a very good place at the moment. We have some older lads really driving the standards but what got us over the line this year was the younger lads that stepped up to the plate. 

"That was a first divisional title for the majority of the team and I think it's given lads a taste for success,” he said.

The talented footballer who can operate in a variety of positions now wants them to replicate the success both Iveleary and Boherbue have achieved in recent seasons.

“For any team in our position now you just have to look at what Iveleary have achieved. They are the benchmark for what can be done. Boherbue were knocking on the door for a number of years and deserved their win this year. Seeing that definitely makes you hungry for club success.” 

He recently stepped away from inter-county football following a very successful career with a number of Cork teams which included All-Ireland success with both the U21s and the junior footballers in 2009 and 2013. 

“The U21 All-Ireland victory in 2009 was a very proud day. Colm getting a last-minute goal to win made it even sweeter. Bringing an All-Ireland trophy back to Tadhg MacCarthaigh was very special. 

"Winning the All-Ireland junior in 2013 was a great achievement. Any day you bring home an All-Ireland medal is one you'll remember forever. Getting that experience at junior level was definitely a great learning curve before making the step up to playing senior championship.” 

A FAMILY AFFAIR

For a few seasons, Kevin was joined by his two brothers Colm and Brian in playing for the Cork senior footballers, which he regards as a ‘huge honour’ for his family. 

Gene and Julie O'Driscoll with their sons Colm and Kevin celebrating Cork's 2009 U21 victory over Down. Picture: Denis Minihane. 
Gene and Julie O'Driscoll with their sons Colm and Kevin celebrating Cork's 2009 U21 victory over Down. Picture: Denis Minihane. 

“It was a huge honour. Mom and dad supported us massively from an early age so to be able to have the three of us playing together with Cork was great for them. 

"We have a photo of the three of us with Sonny, our grandfather, on the morning of the Munster final in 2015. It's memories like that stick with you once you stop playing. Having the two lads with me definitely helped me make the breakthrough with Cork. We were always fiercely competitive but helped each other in any way possible.”

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