Gene O’Donovan doesn’t tiptoe around the truth with his Skibbereen players. Nothing gets swept under the carpet, all unpleasant realities are met head on.
O’Donovan is in his first season as O’Donovan Rossa senior manager. One of his first actions after being handed the reigns last winter was to write each of his players a letter. In it, O’Donovan made clear that players would only ever get “the real truth” from him. There’d be no washing down or sugar coating the hard facts that needed airing and addressing.
The players, he said, had a choice: to accept what he was putting on the table or to come back and say they didn’t want to hear it.
“And they all said, we need to know the truth,” O’Donovan recalled this week.
So, what was Skibb’s hard truth that needed to be told and confronted?
This group of players, says O’Donovan, have underachieved, are underachievers.
Evidence of such is wrapped up in the stat showing their recent quarter-final win over Dohenys to be the club’s first in a knockout championship fixture since 2015.
“The boys don’t mind me saying things to the media so long as it is the truth, and I’ve been quoted as saying they are a group of underachievers.
“The majority of these guys won an U21 county back in 2011. They have won one Kelleher Shield (Div 1 League) since then. It was drawn to my attention that the game against Dohenys was the first knockout championship win for this team in seven years. If I think something like that will make a difference to the lads’ psyche, I will bring it up with them. And I have brought it up with them.” The manner in which they overcame Ilen Rovers in Round 2 and Dohenys in the quarters is proof, reckons O’Donovan, of the collective realisation that an aging panel can ill afford to continue underachieving.
“Ilen Rovers got a penalty to bring it back to a point in the second half of our group game and it was said to me afterwards that 12 months ago, we’d have gone out the gate, and that person was right. Instead, we won it by 10.
“The boys do buy into the fact that the clock is ticking for a lot of them. You have six lads who are 32, two more who are 31, and two more are 30. There are a few of them after getting engaged this year, another has twins on the way; their lives are going to change dramatically in the next couple of years and I think when we explain to them that life is short, they realise that, and they realise they have an opportunity here to become club legends.
“Such opportunities don’t come around too often, and the proof is in the fact that it was seven years since we had a quarter-final win.” To take said opportunity, though, they’ll need to iron out the creases and lapses that were evident during their final round group defeat to Clyda Rovers. The three-point loss was a warning, one which O’Donovan says they have learned from.
And while not looking past this evening’s semi-final against 2021 runners-up St Michael’s, the O’Donovan Rossa manager is his typical honest self when spelling out what constitutes a successful 2022 campaign for his team.
“Reaching a county semi-final is not an achievement. Reaching a final is not an achievement. You have got to go all the way and win them. Beaten finalists are never remembered. It would be the ultimate [goal] to win it, but we have to think about Saturday first.”