‘I was seen as a bit of a weirdo for favouring football’

Ever hear the one about the Carrigtwohill lad who didn’t fancy hurling, transferred into Nemo to kick football, had to wait 96 weeks before he could play and, seven years on, is one hour from captaining them to a 20th Cork title.

Where to begin with Aidan O’Reilly.

2007 is probably not a bad starting point. Mick Evans had called Aidan O’Reilly into the Cork minor set-up. Being part of the Cork environment lit a spark in him.

He wanted more of this. Much, much more.

In 2008, he’d no longer be eligible for minor and in the hurling stronghold of Carrigtwohill, the majority of players his age would focus their efforts exclusively on the small ball as they moved into adult level. Football, thus, became an afterthought.

O’Reilly couldn’t have it so.

His father was working in the Whitegate refinery at the time and word got out that his son was thinking of a move.

A couple of Aghada men employed there got wind of this and that’s where young O’Reilly was headed, only for a last-minute play by Nemo’s Tony Nation and Paul O’Donovan, both of whom were also working in the refinery.

Aidan had played Cork minor with Nemo’s Barry O’Driscoll and mentioned it to him. ‘Sure, come up to Nemo,’ was the response. And that was it. The transfer request went in and Aidan O’Reilly made for Trabeg at the outset of the 2008 season.

“I tried hurling when I was younger but wasn’t much use. Football was my first love. Unusual for someone from Carrigtwohill to say that, I know. I was seen as a bit of a weirdo for favouring football,” he smiles.

“Football comes a distant second to hurling out in Carrigtwohill. I went to secondary school in St Colman’s, Midleton as they played a wide variety of sports, not just hurling. Then the Cork minors happened and I knew if I wanted to progress, I had to move elsewhere.

“I was considering Aghada, the Nemo lads intervened and that’s where I went.”

There was a snag, though. A rather large snag, in fact. Transferring from one Cork club to another, with no change of address, meant 96-weeks would have to pass before he was eligible to pull on the black and green shirt.

Competitive fare was limited to college ball with Cork IT and even that was sporadic enough as the defender couldn’t break into a Sigerson team at the height of its powers - CIT won their one and only title in 2009.

“I was training away with Nemo three times a week in 2008 and 2009. I’d train with anyone that would take me; the U21s, juniors, intermediates, seniors. Any team at all. But no games, not even challenges.

“Because I was training with such a variety of teams, I was getting to know everyone. They’d always make an effort to go over and have a chat with you. Lads were happy to see another face down training.

He’d pop along to the odd match here and there, but tended not to make a habit of it. The frustration would only build when he’d be stood on a grass bank watching the lads he was training with.

The 96-week period had run its course come the 2010 season and so he was available for selection. O’Reilly set his sights on making the premier intermediate team.

Senior manager Eddie Kirwan had other ideas, though, and threw him in at left half-back. It proved a dream year, ending with a 1-15 to 1-13 victory over Crokes in the Munster club final.

“It was luck of the draw that I got in and I haven’t looked back since. In 2010, I was thinking if it is like this every year wouldn’t it be fantastic. That hasn’t been the case and we need to get more consistent in terms of win a county, defend a county.

“We need to try and get a bit more dominance back again. We haven’t defended a Cork crown in a decade. It is important to get back up there.”

He certainly thinks and speaks like a Nemo man.

Perhaps that is what convinced Larry Kavanagh to hand him the captaincy at the beginning of last year.

They fell at the semi-final hurdle but he was retained in this role.

“When you consider the lads who’ve gone before you, it is a privilege to captain this team and this club.”


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