O’Donovan: Fight for 14 shirts drives Crokes

“There is nobody sure of their starting place on this team, well — bar one — we will grant Colm [Cooper] his place I suppose!”

Ambrose O’Donovan is realistic. The stand-in Dr Crokes captain is speaking about the competition for places within the Killarney club ahead of Sunday’s Kerry SFC final against Austin Stacks.

It is so fierce club captain Mike Moloney has not started the last two county championship games and numerous Kerry minors dot the bench.

“This year, the battle for places is fierce. It is the strongest I have seen since I started with the Crokes, with so many players fighting for their place. The likes of Jamie Doolan, who has been deadly for us over three or four years; Michael Moloney, our captain; Gavin O’Shea, a Kerry minor, and Shane Doolan, who played in the Connacht Championship with London, are all on the bench.”

It’s the pressure these players exert on the starting team that keeps O’Donovan grounded. Complacency in this environment is non existent.

“How could you be complacent in a county final, where one missed point, one slip, one bad break, one deflection into a net, one lapse in discipline and your county final could be over?”

O’Donovan — son of the former Kerry great of the same name — has nurtured an impressive partnership with Johnny Buckley around the middle. His loss against Ballymun last February was keenly felt (injured after 19 minutes in that All-Ireland club semi-final). He is also a perfect foil for the more attack-minded Buckley.

“Kieran Donaghy is back to his best and Barry Shanahan is also a fine footballer. It should be a good battle between the two lads and myself and Johnny — nothing is a ‘given’ out there.”

For many, this year’s county championship has not lived up to expectations. O’Donovan is quick to dismiss that idea, but his focus is solely on the Crokes’ displays. He points to their facile 0-14 to 0-4 win over another Tralee side, Kerins O’Rahillys, in the SFC semi-final. A 10-point win but O’Donovan wasn’t content.

“We would not be happy now with our scoreline against O’Rahillys in the semi-final. We have some of the best forwards in the game, but it was not an easy game.”

He has played for more than a dozen years at the top level for Dr Crokes, but O’Donovan has never been as ready for battle as he is now. “Mental strength comes from experience and you have to be able to dig out results when things are going against you.”

If Crokes need inspiration on Sunday, O’Donovan will not be one found wanting.

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