Conor O'Keeffee: Newmarket ace marksman aims high in 2023

SAFC relegation scare means the Duhallow club are already preparing diligently for the summer
Conor O'Keeffee: Newmarket ace marksman aims high in 2023

Newmarket's Conor O'Keeffe gets past Corofin's Marc O'Loughlin in the AIB Munster Club IFC at Mallow. Picture: Denis Minihane.

AFTER winning the Cork PIFC in 2021 Newmarket were expected to keep the upward trajectory going last year in the SAFC, but for a variety of reasons it didn’t pan out that way. 

It was fine margins for the Duhallow men, they failed to win their three group stage games, a heavy defeat to O’Donovan Rossa, a draw with Clyda Rovers, and a one-point loss to Illen Rovers, but turned on the style in the relegation play-off against Bandon, 5-11 to 1-8. 

Newmarket’s go-to man and chief scorer ever since he made his debut back in 2015 is Conor O’Keeffe. 

The sharpshooter scored 0-7, 0-3 from frees, out of 0-12 for his team in the famous county triumph against neighbours Kanturk two years ago. 

In a nail-biting finish, Kanturk looked the likely winners leading 0-11 to 0-9, until O’Keeffe kicked two unanswered points, before his cousin Ryan got the winner. 

O’Keeffe ended up with 1-24 last season, 0-15 frees. In the all-important relegation match, the forward kicked 0-3, all from play in a game where his cousin Ryan delivered when it mattered once again, scoring an incredible 4-3, all from open play.

O’Keeffe is confident lessons have been learnt from last season.

“We have looked back on the season, and I am confident there will be no repeat. We didn’t play too bad, it won’t take much to turn it around. 

"One of the big things we have taken from last year’s campaign was that our league form was patchy. We have to start well this season in the league, get momentum and go into the championship prepared. 

"We don’t want to mess around, we want to progress and right the wrongs of 2022."

Newmarket's Conor O'Keeffe shoots from Kanturk's Liam Cashman. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Newmarket's Conor O'Keeffe shoots from Kanturk's Liam Cashman. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

O’Keeffe is confident they can make inroads in the SAFC championship this season, free of the stress which engulfed them last season. 

The group stage will be competitive as ever, with Newmarket up against Kiskeam, Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh and Clyda Rovers.

“Every team will feel they can win the county, especially with St Michael’s gone up. It will be an extremely tough championship. Kiskeam are our first game, local derby and everything that goes with that. 

We will be putting a lot of focus on that opening game, it’s very important to start well. 

"We then have Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh and Clyda Rovers. We are very familiar with Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh, we have played them many times. We drew with Clyda Rovers last season in the group stage, and they went all the way to the semi-final.” 

Newmarket last applied their trade in the top flight of Cork football 10 years ago, a defeat against St Nick’s in the relegation play-off final ended their two-year stay at the top table. 

There is no doubt the 26-year-old forward is eager to help his team get back there this campaign.

“We won the PIFC in 2021, and we were hoping to do well in the SAFC last season, but it just didn’t happen. In saying that, very fine margins and everything did click in the relegation decider against Bandon. 


"The 12 teams in the championship believe they can win the county this season, it’s very even, there’s no stand-out team. We feel we have the players to win the county, but it’s all about momentum, getting it right on the day and a bit of luck. 

"It would be huge for us to be back playing in the top grade of Cork football, I can remember watching Newmarket playing in the top flight back in 2012 and 2013 and I would love those days back again.” 

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

O’Keeffe who kicked 0-4 on his debut back in 2015 in a one-point loss to near neighbours Kiskeam in the PIFC opening round, looks back on his playing career to date with Newmarket’s top team.

It has been brilliant so far. It’s hard to believe it has been eight years since I made my debut. 

"There have been ups and downs. Losing the local derbies are always tough to take, and we had been close to winning the county prior to 2021. In 2019 we were winning well against Éire Óg in the quarter-final and ended up losing, and they went on to win the county, and in 2020 we lost by a single point against Knocknagree in the semi-final, and they also went on to win the county. 

"You play sport for the good days and thankfully all those tough defeats were put behind us when we won the PIFC in 2021, which was unbelievable, a magnificent win, especially against Kanturk our near neighbours.”

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