Cork champions UCC face Monaleen in next Sunday’s provincial opener in Cloughduv but will be without the Dr Crokes duo who will be in action for their club in the same competition next Sunday against Ballinacourty in Dungarvan. And O’Keeffe insists they would never attempt to force players to choose the college over their clubs.
“We couldn’t do that to players, it just wouldn’t be right. Everyone involved in UCC has their own club and you couldn’t ask a player to line out in a competition against his own club. That is our ethos as a college and once we won the Cork championship, we knew we wouldn’t have the two lads in the Munster championship if they won their own title in Kerry.
“That’s how it panned out and we wish them the best. Johnny and Daithí are two great players. They’ll be massive losses to us, who wouldn’t want to have quality like them in your team?
“Of course from our point of view, we’d have preferred Dr Crokes not to win in Kerry but I always felt they would when it came to the closing stages as they were the best team.”
UCC are now forced into changing their county final winning team with last year’s Kerry minor Gavan O’Grady, who bagged 0-2 when introduced in the recent decider against Castlehaven and Cork U21 Brian Coughlan amongst those who will now come into the frame.
The hectic schedule facing the UCC players has continued with attacker Shane Beston featuring in a Cork JFC semi-final for Mitchelstown on Tuesday night while on Saturday defender Niall Daly must line out with his club Pádraig Pearses in the Connacht IFC final.
“It’s certainly not an ideal situation but we’ve been through this all year,” admitted O’Keeffe.
“It’s not going to be easy for Niall with such a big club game on Saturday. But he’s shown unbelievable commitment by driving down from Roscommon for games and I know he’ll give it his all when he takes to the field for UCC on Sunday.
“Things have been a little better for us in our preparation recently as the lads are all back to college. We’re back doing two nights a week and we’ve had some Higher Education league games as well.”
Entering the provincial scene represents uncharted territory for this UCC squad with the college having last participated in the Munster senior club football championship in 1999. Yet the players and management are looking forward to embracing the challenge.
“It’s a completely new prospect for us but we’re going to enjoy it. Winning the county was fantastic and we’ll take great pride in now representing Cork. I know very little about Monaleen but they’ve retained their county title in Limerick and I’m sure they’re going to be formidable opponents. We might not be as strong as we were in Cork but we’ll be giving it our best shot.”